Local Music Makers
Spotlight on singer-musician and songwriter Jonathan Pearlman, aka “JP.”
How can I pay tribute to a person who has been a friend and my champion for 15 plus years?
By Peggy Ratusz
Here’s my attempt to do so, in hopes that by the time I get to the end, I’ll have given justice to my comrade, Jonathan Pearlman, aka “JP.”
Though the first time we met in 2007 is a little fuzzy, the first time we played together is a bit clearer. We’d met just a few weeks prior and he came to my house two hours beforehand to rehearse.
I had a thin spiral notebook containing about 20 song charts in my keys that I knew well. A few were jazz standards because at that time, many friends were encouraging me to learn Great American Songbook tunes. By that time, JP was years deep in a self-study curriculum of jazz composers and instrumentalists.
We tackled the 20 songs in the living room, working out intros, outros, solos and a few harmonies. Afterwards we loaded up the car and drove to downtown Hendersonville for our stint at The Cypress Cellar.
Both nervous for fear of disappointing the other, it took us a full set to begin to cop each other’s vibe and style and relax into the newness; the birth (as it were) of our musical relationship. Our first set break found us toasting at the bar; me with a shot of Jack Daniels and Jonathan with whatever lager they had on tap. Safe to say that we’ve been toasting and singing and copping each other’s vibe and style ever since.
JP started out in this town long before I arrived here in 2002. Under his pseudonym, Alien Music Club, he’s recorded hours of original music and produced countless amazing shows, selling out one after the other after the other. He’s handily and successfully carved out his place within the continuously burgeoning local music scene.
I have had the privilege to be part of a few of his productions: The Bridge- Paul Simon meets the Beatles with Eric Congdon and Paul McIntyre, The British Are Coming with his wife and my bestie, Aileen “Big Al” Pearlman, Bruce Lang and Micha Thomas, and our old-school funk and soul project, Bad Girls & The Aliens of Soul with Taylor Pierson, James Kylen and my other “bestie” Paula Hanke.
Leonard Cohen, The Deep Cuts, is his latest project. Assembling a well-appointed backing band to support his arrangements, it’s a 75 minute set of the song-poems Cohen was so beloved and admired for writing. Pearlman’s voice has never sounded this lush and captivating. His embodiment of the material feels like we’re watching artists paint in real time; only he’s using the instruments to capture textures and color, instead of brushes.
He orchestrates the players, Ryan Kijanka, Franklin Keel, Micah Thomas & Scott Sharpe, by leaving room for them to take turns in the spotlight throughout. This selfless approach serves his purpose and methods fittingly. It is by far one of the most emotional concert performances I have ever been to.
His musical influences span from The Beatles to Mahavishnu Orchestra with guitar heroes like George Harrison, Jeff Beck, John Scofield, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and Pat Martino. In the early 2000’s he began to study and transcribe jazz standards by Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk, Chuck Mingus, John Coltrane and others. It’s interesting to note that his early heroes were Elvis Presley and Bobby Darin and his first experiences on stage were when he was just fifteen and in a Country music band who opened for singers like Charlie Pride, Bill Anderson and Ferlin Husky.
Absorbing the voices and prowess of these geniuses translates into brilliant guitar styles he diligently hones, sharpens and refines. This discipline enables him to connect to his listeners in a unique and personal manner. Soft spoken and shy off stage he speaks to us from the heart on stage, and he does so effortlessly and fluently with any number of his favorite guitars.
I am incredibly blessed and grateful that during the 10+ years he hosted the Barleys AMC jazz jam before Covid curtailed its continuation; through it all and even now, we perform side by side at many area venues.
It’s important to point out that while hosts of the various jams around town these days include devoted and passionate mentors and musicians, let there be no mistake about it; it was Jonathan Pearlman who was one of the first to initiate the platform that those fine young bohemian emcees and organizers mimic for their jams.
His tireless efforts each and every week (for more than ten years) was intended to bring musicians and fans together in downtown Asheville. It was an inclusive place for novices to professional instrumentalists and vocalists to come and be heard, and it opened doors and provided opportunity for players and fans to schmooze, support one another, jam with each other; a place to meet future band mates and collaborators.
The reputations he’s helped set-forth on the right footing, the young people and students he’s hired on their first gig, the influence he’s clearly had on and the role model he’s clearly been to his son, the work ethic he’s shown, inspires all of us to practice and get out there. These aren’t little things. They are not and should not be forgotten. He’s a working and seasoned musician that younger players continue to seek out and look up to.
When JP works on anything, he commits hook line and sinker. An avid boatman, he captain’s rehearsals and live performances with a commanding but loose grip on the wheel, taking those of us lucky enough to share a stage with him to exotic, melodic destinations.
Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach,
song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at