There are times when going to see a concert can offer some totally surprising faire. The David Leonhardt Quintet caught me quite unaware. Flat out, David Leonhardt is a really, terrific jazz pianist and with his quintet, David performed a delightful array of swinging standards, torchy love songs and romantic ballads. Songs from his most recent Gershwin tribute CD were included in his performance. Joining David onstage were Nancy Reed - vocals, Larry McKenna - sax, Andy McKee - double bass, and Taro Okamoto - drums.
The first set opened with a catchy samba rhythm to Day in the Life of a Fool (from David's "Reflection" CD) and continued with a nice variety, namely Miles Davis' Solar, The Man I Love, Summertime, an impromptu blues improvisation, and an original by David entitled Sal Paula Samba. After a short intermission, Nancy and Andy delivered a perfect vocal and bass duet to Paper Moon and Larry McKenna stepped up with great 'Getzy" solo to Someone to Watch Over Me. Taro simply burst with energy throughout the entire two-set evening. The best part about the second set was David's great interplay with the audience. David also surprisingly introduced tap dancer, Shelly Oliver, who beat out rhythms to a creative musical presentation of I Got Rhythm. David finished up the second set taking requests from the audience, obliging with Misty and I Thought About You and ending with Steppin' Down.
David seems to be a very busy musician lately with a full plate of diverse interests. "We just got back from a tour in Italy," said David. " It was so great. Now I'm looking forward to taking off for a few weeks in September play with my kids for a change. It's the first time I've taken off in almost a year. We did Switzerland a couple months ago, but I don't like going out for seven or eight weeks at a time anymore, not with two small daughters at home."
David lives in Pennsylvania, but New York City is just a hop, skip and jump away. "Well, I'm going back to New York City," said David gathering up his belongings backstage. "I'm playing at the Village Vanguard this week. I just took tonight off to come out here and do this. I'll be there tomorrow playing with David "Fathead" Newman. I've been playing with Newman for about 15 years."
David will also be busy touring with his own group this fall and is involved in many projects. One of his involvements, tap dancing, was the surprising addition to his concert. I asked David why he incorporated a tap dancer with his jazz performance at Mt. Gretna. "When I worked with Jon Hendricks, he would use these old-time tap dancers on occasion for special shows and events," David said. "Many of those guys are dead now, or so old they can't dance any longer. That is how I became involved in music for tap dancing. Later on, I became musical director for a young tap group. We toured around the United States and throughout Europe. Eventually, I put out a series of CDs for tap dancers. They are really big with dance studios all over the world. You know, they use them for rehearsals or to practice with. Amazingly, they sell really well."
It's obvious David follows his own dreams and they seem to be working well for him. He directs his own career and in fact, is very successful with his own label. Devoted fans love his straight and modern piano styling. "I have my own record label, so that makes it easy," said David. "It's called Big Bang Records. It's perfect I think! It's as good a situation as being with a major label. I mean I own it, I decide what the project will be, I record it to my own liking and, I receive all the profits!"
This may be the way to go for some who have become disenchanted with major labels, or it just may be that like David, contentment lies in sacrificing a little notoriety in exchange for complete personal creativity. "I've done this thing before where I was producing for another label, David sighed. "I was involved in projects where someone else was calling the shots and it never came out pure. I was always wondering. Now, I get to do exactly what I want."
"I've learned to do pretty much everything myself," explained David. "It's not hard if you discipline yourself to do it, but I'm careful not to get so involved on the business end that I don't have time to write or practice."
You may not have a CD by David Leonhardt in your collection and shame on you if you don't! David is one of those quiet secrets, although his bio boasts an impressive background. David has backed such jazz greats as Stan Getz, Herbie Mann and Buddy Defranco. For four years, he toured as musical director for jazz vocalist Jon Hendricks and has also been a member of the David "Fathead" Newman Quintet for the past ten years. Have I succeeded in convincing you of David's talent? Okay, I'll make you a believer. David has recorded and performed with Stanley Turrentine, Slide Hampton, Ron Carter, Tom Harrell, Gary Bartz, Jimmy Cobb, David Liebman and Buddy Tate the list goes on. He has written arrangements for The Art Blakey Big Band and been guest conductor and arranger for The Benny Carter Orchestra.
If you still aren't convinced, link to http://www.davidleonhardt.com and hear David for yourself.