The great Jay Leonhart has always shown a deft touch on his instrument, the double bass. It would be fair to say that he is equally skilled at turning a phrase. Leonhart’s storytelling in word and low tones is sure to delight on his new recording, Joy, a wonderful collection of jazz-inflected art songs.
Beginning his musical explorations as a teenage trad jazz player in Baltimore, Leonhart was immediately attracted to the music and the upright bass soon after. He attended The Peabody Institute, The Berklee School of Music and The Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto before turning professional and settling in New York at 21 years old.
Leonhart’s path led him to associations with many of jazz’s greats, including Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, Tony Bennett and Jim Hall. In the early 1980s, Leonhart began his affiliation with Sunnyside Records, releasing There’s Gonna Be Trouble (1984) and The Double Cross (1988). These prodigiously playful recordings are still touchstones in Leonhart’s discography.
The bassist’s favored configuration for his story filled original tunes has been a trio with piano, bass and drums. His current trio features the beautiful stylings of pianist Tomoko Ohno and the impeccable timing of drummer Vito Lesczak. The trio has been a solid unit for some time, performing regularly at Birdland in New York City.
The Trio’s Joy was recorded from March to May 2019 at Tedesco Studios by the owner, Tom Tedesco. The pieces that were recorded are perfect examples of the playful tone that Leonhart brings to his original compositions and the ensemble’s upbeat and fluid interplay.
The recording begins with “Bass Aboard a Plane,” a steadily swinging number whose narrative describes the ridiculous situations one encounters in air travel with a large instrument. The title track is a tasty blues that suggests bringing more joy into one’s life. The bossa nova tinged “Playboy Club” dexterously tells the story of one of Leonhart’s first gigs in New York City at the famed Playboy Club, while “Gasparo” tells the melodiously colorful story of the birth of the stringed bass by Gasparo da Salò.
The waltzing “Momma Don’t You Think” is a laid back blues that allows space for great solo turns by Ohno and Leonhart. The clever “Tulips” retells the story of the Dutch’s floral mania over a jazzy beat, while “Life Out on The Road” romantically recounts Leonhart’s first forays of life on the road in loving detail. The trio revisits “Doublecross,” a Leonhart favorite, as an upbeat swinger.
The poetic “Robert Frost” is a quasi-jealous composition longing for the freedom that the famed author had to create his art. The thoughtful “Very Few” asks the listener to consider their actions by telling the story of a bridge jumper, while “For Real” concludes the recording with a wonderful ballad love song with a intervallically intriguing melody.
Jay Leonhart is a bard of bass and locution. His Joy spins his words and playing together with his wonderful trio in a continuation of his brilliantly buoyant storytelling through jazz.
released November 15, 2019
Jay Leonhart - bass & vocals
Tomato Ohno - piano
Vito Lesczak - drums