By Bobbi Booker | Photo by Richard Timbers II
As an enterprising young bassist, Mike Boone took what he initially thought was a detour from his New York City home to Philadelphia. Now, nearly four decades later he is firmly entrenched in his adopted home, playing, teaching, and mentoring up and coming musicians.
“Jazz is definitely a spiritual music and it’s also part of our culture as African American people,” reflected Mike at the start of freewheeling, and often passionate, conversation. “Sometimes that gets lost when you’re in academia—they don’t teach you about the connections. They don’t talk about the soulful jazz, urban jazz, and electric jazz.”
Mike began with piano lessons at the age of eight, later attended the prestigious Eastman School of Music to study bass. After touring with Ben Vereen and Buddy Rich, he moved to Philly in 1983.
“What I learned from hanging out in Philadelphia and meeting all sorts of people is that jazz was an African American art form and has spiritual qualities because it does come from the blues, which come from the church. There is definitely this connection, and I made those connections in a way that I probably wouldn’t have made had I stayed in New York. In fact, I probably wouldn’t be playing jazz, so it was a blessing to come to Philly.”
After embracing the upright bass, he found himself in the company of legendary local musicians, including John Swana, Sid Simmons, Byron Landham, Shirley Scott, and many more. Mike especially recalls his tutelage from Trudy Pitts—and Bill “Mr. C” Carney’s insistence that he convert from electric to acoustic bass.
As a leader, Mike has produced a few albums of his own and is currently an adjunct professor of jazz at Temple University. Nowadays, he is often accompanied on stage by his teenage son, musical prodigy Mekhi Boone, who plays drums. The bassist also has a vibrant social media life on Facebook where his provocative posts garner buzz-worthy responses. Ultimately, for the elder Boone, it is all about the power of music.
“I’m just trying to make people feel good and to do my job. Musicians are healers—we’re doctors, we heal people. People come in, and if they don’t feel good, we’re supposed to make them feel good.”
“I was blessed to learn the real deal: street jazz. So I take some of that street jazz with me into the classroom and directly on the bandstand and that’s what I try to portray. I’m not trying to do a bunch of hip stuff. I’m just trying to swing my ass off. I’m trying to tap into God because that’s where all this stuff comes from anyway. I’m just trying to make people feel good and to do my job. Musicians are healers—we’re doctors, we heal people. People come in, and if they don’t feel good, we’re supposed to make them feel good.”
Mike added, “They call Nashville ‘Music City,’ but when I think of Philadelphia, it is a true Music City—and I will always shout from the rooftops: ‘We got it!'”