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Mike Jones, musical director, composer and pianist for Penn & Teller’s Las Vegas show, plays at Dazzle on Tuesday, June 18.EXPAND
Mike Jones, musical director, composer and pianist for Penn & Teller’s Las Vegas show, plays at Dazzle on Tuesday, June 18.
Kris Jarrett

Penn & Teller Music Director Mike Jones Goes Solo at Dazzle

As musical director, composer and pianist for Penn & Teller’s magic shows in Las Vegas for nearly two decades, Mike Jones knows a few things about warming up a crowd.

“I’m playing every note in the world in the show,” Jones says of his opening sets. “No ballads. It’s just everything you can play at insane pyrotechnics, because I’m trying to get the crowd amped to a see a magic show.”

Jones — a fiery jazz pianist often nodding to his musical heroes Oscar Peterson, Dave McKenna and Monty Alexander — makes use of the entire range of the instrument, both hands working equally hard, as Penn backs him on bass. Jones says that while he’s got it good with Penn & Teller, he doesn’t get much of a chance to play his own gigs, save for the occasional show at the Green Mill in Chicago.

The difference between “the two nights a year when I play at the Green Mill when people have come to actually hear the music and playing for people looking for their seat at a magic show is vast,” Jones says. “But having said that, I’ve got the greatest gig in the world. I play whatever I want with Penn for an hour before the show, and then I play all my own music in the show. I get a lot of people after the show that compliment me, and it’s fulfilling, but it’s at a different level.

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“In the Penn & Teller Show, I’m just showing off for people who don’t know anything about music," he adds. "And that’s good, because even if they don’t understand music, they can still be impressed by the technical stuff.”

And you can hear Jones’s technical prowess on many of his albums, particularly his most recent duo album with Penn, last year’s The Show Before the Show, and his previous two albums on local jazz imprint Capri Records, 2012’s Plays Well With Others and 2016’s Roaring. Jones says he’ll play material from those albums during his Tuesday, June 18, show at Dazzle with Denver-based bassist Ken Walker and drummer Dru Heller.

“When I’m in Penn & Teller, I’m a jazz piano player in show business,” Jones says. “When I’m playing a gig like this, I’m a jazz piano player. I want to calm down, play a few less notes and listen to people on stage with me and have fun and swing.”

Armed with classical training and remarkable jazz chops, Jones is trying to get more get gigs around the country, since he’s got more than a hundred days off a year from playing with Penn & Teller. He sees it almost like starting a new career, something he says a twenty-year-old would be doing.

“I’ll be a sixty-year-old overnight sensation,” Jones says with a laugh. “I often say, ‘I want to make it while I can still eat solid food.’ I’ll be having pudding on the breaks.”

Mike Jones, 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, Dazzle, 1512 Curtis Street, $15.

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