Jon Cleary is the funkiest Englishman you’ve ever heard. Emigrating from his hometown of Cranbrook, Kent, in 1980, Cleary became the embodiment of the New Orleans R&B pianists he’d been soaking up since childhood. Taking up a residence as a painter in New Orleans’ famed Maple Leaf bar, Cleary literally painted the inside of the club while drinking in all the keyboard greats who played the club, like Tuts Washington, James Booker, and especially Professor Longhair. A no-show by Booker got Cleary his first gig there, and his prowess earned him sideman gigs with Earl “Trick Bag” King, Jessie “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” Hill, and the tan canary, Johnny Adams.
Cleary spent a decade with Bonnie Raitt before going out on his own in 2009, leading the Absolute Monster Gentlemen and later touring with a stripped-down bunch, the Philty Phew, to promote 2012’s Occapela, a collection of Allen Toussaint covers he denied was a tribute, saying he was only “having fun” with Toussaint’s work.
But for this outing, his only accompaniment is Ella, a hundred-year-old piano that lives in New Orleans’ Chickie Wah Wah bar, where Cleary has been holding court on Tuesday nights for years.
Cleary may not be from ’round these parts, but with the help of a hundred-year-old piano and a bone-deep understanding of Crescent City piano gods, he sure does fit in good.