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Mwenso and the Shakes

Mwenso and the Shakes

North American Booking


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...intense, prowling, and ebullient.
— The New York Times

Whether fulfilling the role of vocalist, emcee, showman, or impresario, MICHAEL MWENSO conveys both the sophistication and spontaneity of hardcore jazz and the music’s folkloric roots with impeccable craft, creativity, and communicative flair. Mwenso performs as leader—or ringleader—of Michael Mwenso and The Shakes, a revue comprising between three to five vocalists (they include himself, Brianna Thomas, Charenee Wade, and Vuyo Sotashe) and a rotating ensemble that includes rising stars like drummers Joe Saylor and Jamison Ross, pianist Chris Pattishall, trumpeters Alphonso Horne and Bruce Harris, and tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott. From time to time, internationally acclaimed singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and pianists Jonathan Batiste, Aaron Diehl and Sullivan Fortner—among others—augment this close-knit musical family. All developed their ideas and accrued public visibility at late night shows booked and overseen by Mwenso since 2012 (when he joined Jazz At Lincoln Center as Curator and Programming Associate) at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at JALC’s complex in New York’s Time-Warner Center.

In 2009, Wynton Marsalis—who met and befriended Mwenso in 1997—played a week at Ronnie Scott’s. After witnessing the vibrant scene that Mwenso had coalesced, he invited him to move to New York, with a mandate to attract a younger, broader audience to Dizzy’s and JALC, while retaining values consistent with Marsalis’ “all jazz is modern” mantra. Mwenso’s success in accomplishing this mission is evident: the Shakes were featured on the November 17, 2015 edition of Christian McBride's Jazz Night In America on NPR, and performed at the Kennedy Center’s 2015 New Year’s Eve Gala.

“You’re getting a generation of holistic musicians who love Louis Armstrong just as much as Woody Shaw, Sidney Bechet as much as Ornette Coleman,” Mwenso says. “They want to be free in all styles of music—free in themselves. We’re figuring out ways to play this music as art, but as entertainment, too.”