Mimi Jones Unleashes Genre Bending Powers in Groove Fest at Old Lyme Jazz Club

Jun 10, 2015

Mimi Jones's vocal style has a wide range, at times splashing around in surprisingly plummy depths or morphing easily into edgy scatting.

With her ecumenical embrace of everything from traditional to contemporary genres, bassist/vocalist Mimi Jones is soaring to success on a victorious mix of musical verve and a voracious appetite for variety and versatility.

Her most recent CD, Balance, which was released in 2014, is a bright showcase of her gift for blending virtually everything from hard-swinging jazz and a contemporary sensibility with elements of funk, rock, soul, blues, folk and smooth jazz enlivened with a real human pulse. Among the varied diversions on Balance are her fresh arrangements of Bob Dorough’s "Nothing Like You" and Roy Ayers’s "Everybody Loves the Sunshine."

And, yes, she even manages to spin an imaginative web on the children’s favorite, "The Incy Wincy Spider."

Initially, an amusingly dark, mysterious, even creepy, crawly take on the kiddie piece, it lights up with a sunburst of happiness and even includes a refreshing flash of free jazz. Literally accessible to all ages, Jones's amusing spider song is just one of the CD’s six samplers of her relaxed, mellow, sometimes sultry vocal style whose velvety wide-range at times splashes around in some surprisingly plummy depths or morphs easily into edgy scatting.

Jones's passion for multiple musical genres began as a kid growing up in the Bronx.

Balance, which is a sequel to Jones’s acclaimed, 2009 debut disc, A New Day, is another demonstration of her varied, in-depth talents as an acoustic and electric bassist, vocalist, composer (seven originals here), arranger and record producer. Her queen-size package of artistic skills comes complete with pragmatic business smarts as owner of her own label, Hot Tone Music.

Jones brings her big bag of surprises—each crafted with a well-calibrated, savvy sense of balance—to Connecticut as she leads her quartet at 8:30 pm on Saturday, June 13, at Old Lyme’s The Side Door Jazz Club, 85 Lyme Street. Her collaborators in her musical mosaic are the fine drummer Jonathan Barber, another one of Hartford’s contributions to the jazz world; pianist Miki Hayama and the noted saxophonist Mark Shim who’s fluent in everything from bop to funk to avant-garde. Information: thesidedoorjazz.com and (860) 434-0886

Hayama, an excellent pianist who was born in Kyoto, Japan, is one of the many standout players on Balance, performing on six of its 12 tracks. Since arriving on the New York scene in 2003, she’s worked with such jazz royalty as Kenny Garrett and Nnenna Freelon, and even with Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.

Mimi Jones.
Credit Courtesy of the artist

Balance’s lineup includes strong contributions from the noted Venezuelan-born pianist Luis Perdomo (Jones’s husband), guitarist Marvin Sewell (who also makes his public debut here on piano); and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen whose swinging, museful solos would certainly captivate Carrie Mathison, the jazz and Miles Davis-loving CIA agent and protagonist of the Showtime hit series "Homeland." Jones’s diverse studio recording crew also includes: Camille Thurman, flute and voice; Enoch Smith Jr., piano; Sean Harkness, guitar; Justin Faulkner, drums; Shirazette Tinnin, drums and percussion, and Mala Waldron, daughter of the legendary pianist Mal Waldron, voice.

Jones’s passion for multiple musical genres began as a kid growing up in the Bronx. Her parents’ wide, in-depth record collection had lots of room for Miles & Trane and Gene Ammons, along with Michael Jackson, James Brown, Ray Charles, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand, among many others.

Jones, who was born in New York City on March 25, 1972, started out in music on guitar at age 12 while attending the Harlem School of the Arts. Later, while at Fiorello La Guardia High School of Music and Performing Arts, she had to switch to cello because the school then had no guitar teacher. In another fateful switch, while she just happened to be fooling around with an acoustic bass one day, she was overheard by the school’s band director who spotted her talent and signed her up for the school’s jazz band.

Saying goodbye to cello and hello to acoustic bass was a natural move for her, she said.

“I couldn’t get a sound happening on the cello,” Jones said, “no matter how hard I tried. When I tried the bass, I could instantly get a tone. I didn’t know how to play it, but I could spin it around and play the 'Barney Miller' theme.”

A graduate of The Manhattan School of Music, Jones has studied with such masters as Lisle Atkinson, Barry Harris and Ron Carter, and appeared with numerous artists ranging from Kenny Barron and Ravi Coltrane to Terri Lyne Carrington and Rachel Z. She has performed around the globe as a Jazz Ambassador for the State Department, and even made a special appearance at Beyoncé’s private birthday party for Jay-Z’s 40th.

What’s In a Name?

While her birth name is actually Miriam Sullivan, some years ago she adopted the professional name Mimi Jones as a way, she said, to overcome her shyness, a personality trait that certainly never shows itself in her upbeat, life-affirming music.

“I’m still Miriam Sullivan legally,” she has explained. “Mimi Jones is a stage name. It allowed me to step outside myself and try to do something that I felt I couldn’t do when I’m in my logical, conscious mind.”

Saying goodbye to cello and hello to acoustic bass was a natural move for Jones.

“Also, when I get on stage,” she adds, “I’m able to just be free, silly, and spontaneous with the people, whereas, Miriam Sullivan is rather shy. When I created the name, it made a way for me to have fun and not care so much about what other people think,” she said of the name change’s power to liberate her stage persona.

Later this summer, Jones returns to Connecticut with a band TBA for an appearance on August 10 in the season finale for the Hartford Jazz Society’s free Monday Night Jazz series in Hartford’s Bushnell Park.

Ritual-Rooted Rhythms

If you’re seeking sounds drenched in mystique, polyrhythmic punch, the mystical aura of time immemorial tempered with the existential edge of the moment, then you’d do well to check out the David Virelles/Roman Diaz Duo as it performs at 7:30 pm on Thursday, June 11, at the elegant Wistariahurst Museum at 238 Cabot Street in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Folkloric rhythms of Afro-Cuban sacred ritual and religious music inspire the resonantly evocative, communal pieces created by Virelles, a noted Cuban-born pianist with gilt-edged avant-garde creds, and Diaz, his fellow countryman and master percussionist, who can make ethnomusicology come alive with his array of instruments and incantatory vocals.

Jazz congregants experience mystery and substance, body and soul, when these two empathetic co-celebrants invoke and infuse ancient traditions with 21st-century musical inventions through their interactive explorations.

The concert is presented by Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares, a grassroots, all volunteer organization operating under the fiscal sponsorship of the Northampton Center for the Arts. Tickets: $15.00 available at jazzshares.org and at the door. Check out the website for the non-profit’s stakeholders approach to raising the capital needed to fund concerts with minimal institutional support.

Buttonwood’s Holiday Fare

No, Cynthia Holiday, the noted jazz and blues song stylist -- whose performance at The Buttonwood Tree at 7:00 pm on Friday, June 12, is called Lady Swings the Blues -- is not related to the legendary Billie Holiday.

And, in the second most asked question of the singer, yes, Holiday is Cynthia’s real surname, not an adopted stage name. In fact, this latter-day Holiday has made her own distinctive mark as a vocalist with great pipes and with what singer Kevin Mahogany has called “fantastic stage presence.” As a singer and entertainer, she has charmed audiences at intimate Manhattan clubs like Smoke as well as at giant outdoor events like The Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, which draws tens of thousands of fans to Hartford’s Bushnell Park.

Cynthia Holiday.
Credit Jack Henry

A native of Newark, New Jersey, Holiday has been immersed in music as far back as she can recall. Her stepfather, trumpeter Calvin Hughes, was a regional bandleader who performed with such jazz greats as Count Basie, Frank Foster, Clark Terry, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and the legendary, powerhouse blues singer, Big Maybelle.

Musicians were always coming over to the house to rehearse with her stepfather’s band. Live music, along with the sound of music from her parent’s well-stocked record collection, was constantly in the air in her childhood home 

Both her mother and her aunt were singers with wide-ranging musical tastes, who sang in the choir at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark. Holiday’s grandfather nurtured her interest in music with the soulful sounds of B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Etta James and other blues masters. As a balance for that rich, organic blues diet, her mother loved to play jazz recordings for her by, among a variety of vocalists, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams and Ella Fitzgerald.

Since her 2008 debut album, All the Way on Miles High Records -- a disc featuring as special guests the great pianist Cedar Walton, bassist David Williams and drummer Joe Farnsworth -- Holiday has presented her song stylings in many genres, including not only jazz and blues, but also pop standards and R&B. All the while, she has developed her knack for banter and gift for connecting with audiences everywhere from classy Big Apple jazz clubs, like Birdland and the Iridium, to tours of Russia and Japan. Her resume includes performances with the T.S. Monk Sextet and the Russian trumpeter Oleg Buttman and as the opening act for Gloria Lynne, Cissy Houston and Roy Ayers.

Her mentors have included the late bassist Earl May, who was her empathetic, helpful boss on her earliest, formative gigs. Another important teacher was Rita De Costa-Turrentine, wife of the now late tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, who gave her invaluable early schooling in the fine art of performance.

De Costa-Turrentine’s words of wisdom included tips on everything from what and what not to wear on the job and how to make an effective entry on stage. And, perhaps most important, how to make effective gestures and facial expressions that accentuate rather than detract from the dramatic meaning of the lyrics. Admission: $12.00 in advance; $15.00 at the door. Information: buttonwood.org and (860) 347-4957. The Buttonwood Tree is at 605 Main Street in Middletown.

The Quebes.
Credit The Quebes

The Fabulous Quebes of Texas

The Quebe Sisters
Credit The Quebes

If the word Quebe looks like a typo or an obscure answer in a  New York Times crossword puzzle, you’re in for a most delightful surprise when you first hear the young, sensational Quebe (pronounced kway-bee) Sisters, Hulda, Sophia and Grace, three fiercely foot-stomping fiddlers and close harmony singers from Texas. 

The awesome, threesome brings their celebratory Texas fiddling and Western swing style to Connecticut at 8:00 pm on Friday, June 12, at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center at 300 Main Street in Old Saybrook.

You can count on a good, old-fashioned, red-hot fiddle breakdown at The Kate with the Lone Star State sisters who are at home on the range galloping with elan over vintage country and Western swing, blue grass and jazz, complete with searing riffs and hot outchoruses. A never less than celebratory roundup, the Quebes' repertoire evokes the boundless joy of classic Texas fiddlers, the swing of Bob Wills and the Texas Cowboys, seasoned with a dash of the Sons of the Pioneers, an early Western vocal group; plus a rousing invocation of Stephane Grappelli and the ebullient spirit of the Reinhardt/Grappelli Quintet of the Hot Club of France.

Although the charismatic Quebe Sisters are only in their 20s, they’ve completely absorbed the abundant folk, country and pop traditions of Texas. With their well-honed musical skills, they tap into and replenish the earthy roots traditions. Playing with exuberant flair, they create syncopation without ostentation with their fluent, infectiously upbeat music, played apparently, for the pure joy of making music.

All three Quebe sisters, who have played together for years, have evolved from classical violin studies to full-fledged country fiddle virtuosos. Early on as hard-studying prodigies, they swept up state, regional and national fiddle championships with ease. Never losing their Texas and traditional country roots or their wholesome, homey, endearingly candid stage presence, they’ve toured the globe, wailin’ from Wales to Russia, and made acclaimed recordings. Here in the States, they’ve  played venues ranging from the Grand Ole Opry and Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion to both The Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center.

Whether jamming in a small or vast venue, the quite modest seeming Quebes make the place rock with their intensely played and deeply felt roots music, especially with their fiery fiddle romps through high-voltage vintage country and Western swing. Just as skillfully, the siblings can seize the audience’s rapt attention with a sweet, nostalgic country waltz, a lovely swing ballad from the 1930s, '40s or '50s, or even with an original expressive song also very much in the American grain. And they do it all with dazzling execution, easy grace and from-the-heart expressiveness brimming with down-home joy and an old-timey but vibrant vibe of universal appeal that sounds forever young and never out-of-date.

On tour celebrating their latest release, Every Which-A-Way, the swinging, singing super fiddlers are backed at The Kate by guitarist Simon Stipp and bassist Daniel Parr. Tickets: $32.00, $35.00. Information: katharinehepburntheater.org and box office, (877) 503-1286.

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