Music is a fundamental aspect of human life. You have to listen to it to truly understand the feeling behind it. Funk is renowned to deliver a feel-good time, and one of its underground artists, Jon Cleary, has returned to Australia.
It’s been a year since he won a Grammy for Best Region Roots Music Album. But fame hasn’t changed the man. Last weekend, he delivered a funk-filled evening to the audience at Bulli’s Heritage Hotel.
“We are touring all the time, and I love travelling,” Cleary said in an interview. “I have particularly fond memories of tours in Australia because we’ve always been treated well and the audience has been really good.”
Jon Cleary’s growth into music started at young age. Fascinated by funk, he was lucky enough to be able to process musical information fairly easily even though “it’s useless with everything else.” While he had access to all kinds of music because of his musically inclined family, he found himself drawn to New Orleans music – “it really made my bells ring.”
Tunes such as ‘Lady Marmalade’ by Labelle, ‘Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)’ by Frankie Miller, and the medley of ‘Sailing Shoes / Hey Julia / Sneakin’ Sally’ by Robert Palmer, were all hits he fell in love with, unaware they were recorded in New Orleans and produced by one of the greats, Allen Toussaint. “It was great to realise [they] were from there. And I’m glad my brain can process New Orleans music quite naturally.”
His music is usually under the radar, but his tracks are filled with the soul of New Orleans that make you feel good all-round. It’s why his album GoGo Juice embodies the vibrant city that he loves.
“New Orleans music has always, first and foremost, been good time music. It’s music that played for the sake of playing good music, not necessarily because it’s part of a music business. It’s a bit more real.”
Jon is passionate about the qualities of music, about what it does to the human soul. It’s the reason he loves New Orleans, the place where the ethnic folk music is funk.
“[New Orleans music] places an importance on technical proficiency, not exclusively being technically good. It’s fun because musicians come out and play music to generate a good time. It scores a 10/10 on every level. To live in a city like that all time really tops up your soul battery. And that’s why it’s such a privilege to live there.”
Described as a “walking inventory of N’Awlins piano” by the Guardian, Cleary’s own perspective of his music is a little different. If he could, he wouldn’t describe it. He believes the whole point of music is how it makes you feel, and that’s what makes it profound – “it operates beyond the limitations and scopes of language.”
When asked to describe his own style, he quoted: “Talking about music is like dancing about football”, a famous line by Frank Zappa. It