A person’s 65th birthday is a special occasion; upon reaching such a milestone, a celebration is certainly in order. For some folks, turning 65 means an imminent retirement and the chance to finally get that senior discount at IHOP. Veteran soul singer and songwriter Leon Ware is a little different; having at last reached his golden years, not only is his career not winding down, it actually seems to be still gathering steam. His performance at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood on February 16th, 2005 did indeed coincide with the 65th anniversary of his birth and the mood was certainly festive.
As much as the birthday, though, the reason for the party came from the recent release of Leon’s new album A Kiss In The Sand
. Of course, I imagine that just about any concert given by the smooth singing Ware feels celebratory in nature. Calling himself a "Sensual Minister," (and looking every bit the part in a natty black-on-black suit, Valentine-red button-down shirt, black hat and, to complete the effect in the dimly-lit club, dark shades) Ware and a large band including three female singers and, on some songs, a string quartet delivered several slow but funky songs that told about and inspired romance. There was an emphasis on material from the Brazilian-influenced new release, but he performed songs from throughout his career. One highlight was a version of the duet "Stop Talkin’ & Fall In Love," with one of the back-up singers filling in for the part performed on record by Janis Siegel.
Ware’s instrument remains in fine form, his vocal range including a soft purr, an intimate growl and an ecstatic falsetto akin to the Rev. Al Green, and his patter in between songs was almost as enjoyable as his singing. Ware’s band was tight as well; guitarist Sandro Albert was a particular standout with his funky ninth chords. Drummer Teddy Campbell seemed always on the verge of going out there on the off-beats but never once lost the groove. The rhythm section was completed by bassist Derrick Ray, Cassio Duarte on percussion, and band director Wayne Linsey. who displayed a prodigious talent at the keyboards. Kenya Hathaway and Sherree & Tracey Brown added vocal depth, singing with and off of Ware, while violinists Ludvig Girdland, Robert Anderson, cellist Job Szekely and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson on viola were the icing on this particular birthday cake.
The MC who introduced Ware made a joke at one point about all the people who have been brought into the world because of Leon Ware’s music. Ware himself preached his gospel of sensuality with good humor, but there was no questioning the underlying seriousness of his message. The large crowd on hand at Catalina’s received it rather enthusiastically. It might be an interesting exercise to check the birth records in the great L.A. next October and see if there isn’t a little spike there around the middle of the month.