Not sure who is line ahead of him, but according to musical icon Bonnie Raitt, Jon Cleary is next in line.

“He’s the 9th wonder of the world,” said Bonnie Raitt.

Jon Cleary, the ‘Nawlins-based British funk and r & b singer, songwriter and virtuosic player of the bones, performs at the 36th annual Telluride Jazz Celebration, which takes place Friday, August 3 – Sunday, August 5. For fans, Cleary’s set is Sunday, 5:15 – 6:30 p.m., part of impresario Paul Machado’s lineup for New Orleans Tribute Day.

The Tribute begins with a parade down Main Street at noon, followed by the music on the Main Stage in Town Park. The Mudbugs Cajun & Zydeco Band, Astral Project All -stars, Soul Rebels, Funky Meters and Cleary are featured.

In the hallowed ranks of New Orleans “piano professors,” Jon Cleary is on the tenure track. His fame as both a soloist and bandleader stretches nationwide.

At Telluride Jazz, Cleary performs with the Philthy Phew, Johnny Vidacovich on drums and James Singleton on bass. The trio showcases Cleary’s varied compositions laced with flavors of New Orleans funk, classic R&B, and tropical rhythms. They also interpret the Allen Toussaint compositions that make up Cleary’s newest release, Occapella.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a tribute,” Cleary says of Occapella. “The term ‘tribute’ sounds rather corny, really. On the back of the album, I just put, ‘Having fun with the songs of Allen Toussaint,’ which sums up the vibe a bit better. Toussaint’s music was the soundtrack of my adolescence. The idea of flexing my various musical muscles using Allen Toussaint’s songs as the raw material seemed really appealing. The challenge was to take each song and do a flip on it in some respect.”

Born in England, came of age in New Orleans, Jon Cleary is a triple threat, combining soulful vocals, masterful piano skills, and a knack for composing infectious grooves with melodic hooks and sharp lyrics. He balances a career performing on solo piano in addition to gigs with r & b groovers, The Philthy Phew, and as a notorious hired gun with the likes of Dr. John, Raitt and John Scofield. Cleary is featured on vocals and keyboards on Scofield’s locally recorded Piety Street. Cleary toured with Raitt from 1999 to 2009, and has appeared on the albums Silver Lining and Souls Alike. On these recordings, Raitt covered the Cleary originals, “Fool’s Game,” “Monkey Business,” “Unnecessarily Mercenary,” and ”Love on One Condition.” Raitt returns the favor by singing on “Let’s Get Low Down” on Occapella, as does Dr. John, with whom Cleary is touring this summer.

Cleary has produced six recordings to date including his latest, Occapella, a set of the aforementioned Allen Toussaint’s tunes – both famous and obscure – that combines the jazz concept record with a creative, funky attitude. Prior to this recording, he released Mo Hippa (2009), Pin Your Spin (2004), Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen (2002), Moonburn (1999), and Alligator Lips & Dirty Rice (1994). Cleary has a long list of recording credits with artists such as Taj Mahal, Keb Mo, India Arie, and Ryan Adams.

“Hearing Occapella for the first time, adjectives poured out of my head: sophisticated, smooth, slick, polished, original, striking, exquisite, and beautiful. Every track is a tour de force of performing virtuosity, and every arrangement is captivating and memorable,” said Wesley Britton of Blogcritics.

To learn more, click the “play” button and listen to my interview with Jon Cleary.

Photo credit: Jesse Hiatt

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