Michael Mwenso has led high-profile residencies and amassed an ardent following, becoming a staple of the New York City jazz scene. But he has no recordings to speak of — something The Checkout is here to remedy with “Songs of Empowerment and Uplift,” a suite captured live in concert.
Born in Sierra Leone, Mwenso migrated to London as a child, seeking refuge during his country’s civil war. He was raised by his mother until his early teens, when she was deported back to Nigeria, her home country.
Mwenso’s mother, a frustrated actress, frequented London’s legendary jazz nightclub Ronnie Scott’s. She would often drop Mwenso off there, and by age 12 or 13, he was already performing onstage. It was during this time that he was discovered by James Brown, who invited Mwenso to perform with him.
A decade later, Mwenso was leading late-night band sessions at Ronnie Scott’s when he caught the ear of Wynton Marsalis. He accepted Marsalis’ invitation to run Jazz at Lincoln Center’s late-night jam at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola — and from that perch, Mwenso developed a loyal following of grassroots musicians and fans, leading the band he calls the Shakes.
The Dizzy’s residency ended a couple of years ago, but Mwenso and the Shakes can still be found around New York City and overseas. In this installment of The Checkout, we’re proud to present a recording made in August at Le Poisson Rouge.
Mwenso and the Shakes will perform this new music on Friday at the Bitter End, as part of the 2018 Winter Jazzfest.
Recording Engineers: Carl Lund with Sean Stewart and Bernie Girman assisting
Music Mix by David Tallacksen