Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen


You would assume that anyone who grew up in New Orleans would appreciate that city’s unique musical culture better than the transplant would — but sometimes it takes an enthusiastic outsider to show the native just what he’s got . . . or lost.

Jon Cleary, one of the city’s most vibrant singer-pianists, actually grew up in England, albeit in a house where jazz and blues were always playing. He fell in love with New Orleans R&B at an early age and took up the guitar. In 1980 he made his way to the Crescent City to see whether or not he couldn’t turn his obsession into a vocation, hanging out at the famous Maple Leaf Club, where he secured a job painting the place in exchange for beer and free admission to watch the local greats do their funky things.

In the house where he was staying was a piano, which he soon realized was his true calling. He mastered it with great dedication, and returned to London to form his own R&B band. But he couldn’t stay away from New Orleans, where he later started playing with local luminaries such as George Porter and Walter “Wolfman” Washington. After he started writing his own material, he formed the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, but his career was suddenly interrupted when he ran into visa problems and had to go back to England.

Since then he’s managed to straighten out his situation and settle in New Orleans. In addition to recording four albums with the Gentlemen and touring the world, Cleary has also done session work with Taj Mahal, B.B. King and Eric Clapton. For 10 years he’s been a member of Bonnie Raitt’s touring band, but Cleary’s rollicking playing style is only half the fun. His mollasses-rich singing voice conveys the whole musical history of his adopted city as if it were the most precious cargo on earth — and considering what New Orleans has been through in the past several years, that’s something we can all appreciate.

Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen play Oct. 14 at Thumbs Up, Yokohama (8 p.m.; [045] 314-8705); Oct. 15 at Shibuya Club Quattro, Tokyo (7:30 p.m.; [03] 3477-8750); Oct. 16 at Bottom Line, Nagoya (7:30 p.m.; [052] 741-1620); and Oct. 17 at Big Cat, Osaka (7:30 p.m.; [06] 6258-5008). All shows ¥5,000 in advance, ¥6,000 on the door.

Jon Cleary also plays solo on Oct. 20 at Eats and Meets Cay, Tokyo (7:30 p.m.; ¥4,000 in advance, ¥5,000 on the door).