Piano master Mike Jones joins forces with bassist/magician Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller for striking new album The Show Before the Show available March 16, 2018 on Capri Records
Musical director for the Penn & Teller show joins his boss in a magical jazz duet
“The most remarkable pure technique of any piano player working in jazz today.” – Neil Tesser, Author of The Playboy Guide to Jazz
“Yup, this is Jonesy, our piano player. He’s a monster.” – Penn Jillette
Sometimes jazz can itself seem like magic, its best practitioners spontaneously spinning breathtaking improvised music out of thin air. Mike Jones, one of our most accomplished mainstream jazz pianists, is certainly a wizard of sorts–a technical marvel whose melodic and rhythmic gifts astonish on a regular basis. On The Show Before the Show this beguiling artist is joined by a bassist who, in another capacity, also knows how to dazzle with regularity: Penn Jillette, the internationally acclaimed magician who, for over four decades, has been best known as the verbal half of the renowned magic duo Penn & Teller. The Show Before the Show reveals that Jones retains his status as a spectacularly gifted player, and that Jillette has fashioned himself into an excellent musician who inspires his partner with unerring support.
That the super pianist and Jillette work so well together is certainly little surprise. Jones has been the musical director for Penn & Teller’s Las Vegas show since early 2002, playing both before the show begins and, when called upon, during the act. As the new millennium began, Jillette, who played the electric bass as a pastime, began to seriously study the acoustic instrument. Joining Jones on stage during the early set (“the show before the show”), Jillette and the pianist would romp through well-loved standards, providing the audience with a taste of first-rate jazz. Nearly twenty years later, the duo still sound like they’re having the time of their lives.
As Jillette has said, “When you ask Jonesy what kind of music we play, he says, “Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown.” When you ask me, I say, “Oscar Peterson and…a bass player.” I wear a hat and a coat, and even though I’m very recognizable, you just don’t expect the pre-show bass player to be someone important. I’m not lit, and people don’t notice me…I make all the money doing the Penn and Teller show, but the 45 minutes before the show is just wonderful for me. It’s very humbling to play with Jonesy. He’s never wrong.”
Standards make up the bulk of The Show Before the Show, including such imperishable tunes as “Broadway,” “Have You Met Miss Jones,” and “There is No Greater Love” as well as the Bossa Nova classics “Corcovado” and “Manha de Carnival.” (There’s also room for Jones’s own joyful “Box Viewing Blues.”)
Throughout, Jones displays his matchless virtuosity, his prodigious technical gifts and sweeping knowledge of the jazz tradition allowing him to mingle swing, pre-swing and stride idioms effortlessly and with utmost taste. Although he works seamlessly with his duet partner, Jones is also given a chance to demonstrate his one-man-band abilities on the closing track, “Exactly Like You.” A tour de force of dashing pianistics, the performance becomes a showcase for Jones’s two-handed wizardry. For his part, Jillette, the perfect support player, grounds the music with rhythmically sure and harmonically apt playing, even getting off some snappy solos in the bargain.
“I can’t imagine anyone would see my position in jazz and not think it’s the most enviable possible,” Jillette has stated. “I get to play professionally, not need the money and play with the best person in the world. Beat that!”
Graduating from the Berklee College of Music in 1986, Mike Jones remained in the Boston area working with such eminent local players as Herb Pomeroy and Gray Sargent. After significant East Coast performances, appearances at the Floating Jazz Festival on the S.S. Norway and the Queen Elizabeth ll, and a series of acclaimed recordings that established him as a world-class pianist steeped in the pre-bop jazz tradition, Jones relocated to Las Vegas where he caught the eye of Penn Jillette, who in 2002, brought Jones onboard for the nightly Penn and Teller show. He has released two highly acclaimed albums on Capri Records: 2012’s Plays Well With Others, and 2016’s Roaring. He is a Kawai Pianos artist.