In 1981, Grammy award-winning pianist and songwriter Jon Cleary flew to New Orleans from his hometown, the British village of Cranbrook, Kent, for an initial pilgrimage and took a cab straight from the airport to the Maple Leaf Bar, a storied venue which then featured such great blues-rooted eclectic pianists as Roosevelt Sykes and James Booker. Cleary first worked at the Maple Leaf as a painter, but soon graduated to playing piano there.
Today, Cleary’s work pays obvious homage to the classic Crescent City keyboard repertoire created by such icons as Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Art Neville, Dr. John, and James Booker – while also using it as a launching pad for a style that incorporates such other diverse influences as ’70s soul and R&B, gospel music, funk, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Cuban rhythms, and much more.
In 2016, Cleary won a Grammy award for his 2015 album Go Go Juice in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category. OffBeat Magezine’s Brett Milano noted that the album was “one more example that the good stuff is still around.”