Full Bio- Mimi Jones
For the more than two decades she’s been on the scene, bassist/vocalist/producer/label owner and now filmmaker Mimi Jones has reigned supreme, as a sidewoman to an impressive coterie of musicians and as a leader with two CDs on her own Hot Tone Music label, A New Day (2009) and Balance (2014)—her critically acclaimed recording that featured compositions by Roy Ayers, Bob Dorough, and Adele.
Her third CD for the label, Feet in the Mud, is her most powerful, propulsive, and personal recording to date. “Feet in the Mud to me means being true to one’s own self despite your race, age, gender, size et cetera,” Jones says. “It’s about finding true joy within yourself, having an open mind and spirit and a connection to the earth.”
Jones is supported by an engaging and ingenious collection of musicians: pianist Jon Cowherd (Brian Blade, Cassandra Wilson, Rosanne Cash), drummer Jonathan Barber (Kenny Barron, Kurt Elling, Erykah Badu), and soprano saxophonist Samir Zarif (Jason Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Aaron Neville).
Whether in trio or quartet configurations, Cowherd’s finessed acoustic and Fender Rhodes pianism, Barber’s raw but grooving, in-the-pocket drumming, and Zarif’s serpentine-fired sax lines provide the perfect simpatico support for Jones’s deeply satisfying bass lines and haunting vocals, which are firmly anchored in the jazz tradition and are stylistically elastic enough to encompass other genres.
The uplifting and buoyant “Elevate,” dedicated to pianist and close friend ArcoIris Sandoval and to beloved spirit brother Mr. Ed Leggin, swings in a festive 7/4 meter. Jones’s funky, fusionistic, syncopated take on the Beatles pop classic “Blackbird” is also rendered in 7/4 and was arranged by one of her favorite pianist/composer/ arrangers of her generation, Enoch Smith Jr.
In contrast, she pays homage to an all-time favorite, Mr. Wayne Shorter, in a heartfelt rendition of his “Fall,” experimenting with combining voice and sax in unison. “Applause,” a sober Jones-penned elegy, is dedicated to Rebecca Buxton, a saxophonist who committed suicide in the fall of 2015 and those like her who succumb to serious depression. “She was one of my peers,” Jones sadly recalls. “I composed this song based on what she might have felt as she was fading away. There are so many who suffer from a heavy depression. I used to be one, and so I have empathy for that subject and hope this song will slow us down, reminding us to check on folks we love and hopefully bring more awareness to mental and emotional illness.”
Other compositions on Feet in the Mud includeshout-outs to jazz greats. “The-Min-Or-Way” (“The Minor Way”) is Jones’s three-in-one, boppish, blues-tinged homage to Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and Ornette Coleman. “I imagined the three of them jamming and hanging,” Jones says. Speaking of Monk, the pointillistically-pulsed “Lyman’s Place” was inspired by a documentary Jones is producing on jazz luminary Bertha Hope, pianist and wife of bop-era piano virtuoso Elmo Hope, who knew Monk and Bud Powell. “Bertha explained how Monk had a giant influence on her sound,” Jones says. “She and her husband knew Monk personally and they spent lots of time together on Lyman’s Place, because Monk’s family lived on that street, which ironically is located around the corner from where I grew up and live now in the South Bronx.”
“One 4JB” is a straight-ahead 4/4 swinger in adoration of drummer Jonathan Barber, a Hartford, Connecticut native raised under the tutelage of the famous Jackie Mack influence for which the Hartford scene is known. “The Grinder,” a workout in a brisk 4/4 tempo “depicts the unforgiving and fast-paced New York City that even as a native can be a bit much to bear,” says Jones. “‘The Grinder’ can also be the individual going at it in New York City, giving it all they got. Either way, once you’ve experienced living in New York City you will never be the same.” The evocatively titled “Mr. Poo Poo” is based on a fictional character that represents adversity. We all have to deal with Mr. Poo Poo from time to time,” she says with a laugh. “The A section of the song continuously turns the down beat into an upbeat, making it difficult to play on. Just when you think you’re good, here he comes with his big head.”
“The American” is a slow-tempoed composition pulsed with Jones’s brooding bass lines. The song belies the evolution of the Americas inhabited by African slaves, Europeans settlers, and Native Indians “literally planting their feet in the mud” and their survival/endurance.
The CD’s title track—“Feet in the Mud,” written by Luis Perdomo—pleasure-glides with some fusion-friendly, Fender Rhodes-funk. After attending a festival in France, the pianist recalls a fond memory of people happily dancing in the mud despite the rain at his performance, like hippies from the 70s, carefree and in love with life and music. “I really loved this vision and decided to use it for the title of the song,” says Luis.
A relaxed samba with a rhythmic, almost comical lyric, “Happy” is a song from Mimi to Luis for the 12-plus years they have shared together in friendship and marriage.
The jazz world is happy that Mimi Jones is on the scene. Born Miriam Sullivan in New York City on March 25, 1972 of parents from Barbados, she was raised in the Bronx. Jones grew up listening to a variety of music including Al Green, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, Earth, Wind & Fire, and more. She took up the guitar at the age of twelve, studying classical guitar with her first music instructor, James Bartow, at the Harlem School of the Arts. She also studied percussion, songwriting, voice, drums, and dance. Jones switched to cello after being accepted at the famed LaGuardia High School of Music and Art because the school because they had no guitar teacher. Band director Justin DiCioccio heard her messing around with an acoustic bass and recruited her to play in the school jazz band, which at the time included budding young lions such as Abraham Burton, Eric McPherson, Walter Blanding Jr., and Michael Leonhart.
“Once I switched to bass, I began listening Jimmy Blanton and Oscar Pettiford. They had their own sound and their individual approach to weaving bass lines and improvisation. Milt Hinton took me under his wing, and gifted me a scholarship to the jazz camp at Skidmore summer camp. He had an early influence on me to sing and play bass,” Jones fondly recalls. “I grew up listening to a lot of Miles Davis, which naturally exposed me to the great Ron Carter, Sam Jones, and Paul Chambers. Later on I experienced the Oscar Peterson trio, which exposed me to Ray Brown. Wow!”
At Manhattan School of Music, Jones studied with classical teacher Linda McKnight and simultaneously attended programs and concerts at the Jazzmobile school on Saturday mornings with bassist extraordinaire Lisle Atkinson. “He really helped me understand that good bass lines should always be melodic and interesting, to understand the importance of my role as a bass player, to use the full range of the instrument, and to play with a bow,” Jones says of Atkinson, who gifted her with a Juzek double bass for her graduation. “That was the moment when it occurred to me that I was truly a bass player.” She also studied with artists such as Barry Harris, Ron Carter, Milt Hinton, Dr. Billy Taylor, Yusef Lateef, Max Roach, Maria Schneider, and bassist Guillermo Edgehill. Guitarist Rodney Jones was also a big influence on Mimi’s playing and assisted her auditioning process to MSM.
As a Jazz Ambassador Mimi toured Africa, Europe, Russia, China, South and Central America, and the Caribbean for the U.S. State Department. Her vast work as a sidewoman includes gigs with Kenny Barron, Lizz Wright, Beyonce, Frank Ocean, Dianne Reeves, Tia Fuller, Ingrid Jensen, Roy Hargrove, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nona Hendricks, Kevin Mahogany, Corey Glover, Raymond Angry, Marc Cary, Toshi Reagon, Rachel Z, Sean Jones, Cyrille Aimee, Allan Harris, Rudy Royston, Ravi Coltrane,and Terri Lyne Carrington’sGrammy Award winning Mosaic Project.
Jones has also been a member of the Tia Fuller Quartet since its inception 12 years prior. She recalls auditioning for the Beyonce Band, to which she was not accepted. “I decided that, instead of remaining in a stupor, I was going to take that time to make something of myself.” She created an alter ego for herself: “Mimi Jones allows me to be able to step outside myself and go for things that I feel I can’t do when I’m in my logical mindset,” she explains.
And so, with a new name and a new attitude, Jones launched her own record label, Hot Tone Music, in 2009. “The label was created to give opportunities to amazingly talented artists who may be overlooked because of industry or society’s standards and may be denied necessary support and knowledge to develop,” says Jones.
Her debut recording for the label and first CD as a leader, A New Day (with pianist Miki Hayama, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, guitarist Marvin Sewell, drummers Lucianna Padmore and Marcus Gilmore), was released in 2009. In 2014, Jones released her second CD, Balance,againwith Hayama, Sewell, and new additions: trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist Luis Perdomo, pianist Enoch Smith Jr., guitarist Sean Harkness, drummers Shirazette Tinni and, Justin Faulkner; flutist/vocalist Camille Thurman; and vocalist/pianist Mala Waldron. Hot Tone Music simultaneously released the label debuts of Shirazette Tinnin’s Humility: Purity of My Soul and Camille Thurman’s Origins.
In addition to her duties as a bandleader and label owner, Jones produces a weekly residency entitled The Lab Session at Symphony Space on West 95th Street and Broadway, with a rotating cast of some of the finest musicians in New York City. Jones also serves as co-director with ArcoIris Sandoval of the D.O.M.E. Experience, a multimedia project that is meant to inspire its audience to become aware of environmental and social issues, within the community and globally.
Mimi is composing for the Dome Experience orchestra which includes 40 musicians, among them Steve Wilson, Dayna Stephens, Jamie Baum, Claire Daly, Dave Gilmore, and Bob Stewart.
Which brings us to Feet in the Mud, a riveting recording that shows just how deeply rooted her music is, and how it anchors and emboldens her to be her truest self, artistically and personally. “When I think of this album,” says Jones, “I think of freedom without shame or judgment. Removing these virtual walls we put up to protect our feelings and our vulnerability is necessary to truly appreciate all of oneself.” •