Take Five With Dana Leong
Meet Dana Leong: Described as crafting "lines of sublime lyric content" (Chicago Tribune), and "sizzling, highly stylized solos" (Philadelphia Inquirer), Dana started his impressive career with the rare skill of commanding both the cello and trombone. He has held roles as both a performer and composer with top artists including: the 2006 Grammy-nominated jazz chamber trio led by Paquito D'Rivera (where he fills a chair frequented by Yo-Yo Ma); the 2007 Grammy-nominated Dafnis Prieto Absolute Quintet; and has worked with Ray Charles, Diddy, Kanye West, Wynton Marsalis, Yoko Ono, and more.
Following his successful debut release Leaving New York (featuring Grammy Award winners Christian McBride and Paquito D'Rivera), Dana recently completed his latest recording, Anthems of Life (scheduled to drop 11/01/2007). As a bandleader/composer, Dana heads The Dana Leong Band, featuring Dana (cello/trombone/laptop), Aviv Cohen (drums), Jason Lindner (keyboards), and MCBaba Israel (rap vocals).
Instrument(s): Cello, Trombone.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I was faced with the decision whether to move across the country (from San Francisco) to New York. At eighteen years of age, I had interest in music, science/biology, sports (track and field), and all were options to me. When a final registration deadline to enter the conservatory in New York City crept up on me, I decided that night in August of 1998 to pack all the items absolutely necessary into one bag and move to New York City and haven't turned back yet.
Your sound and approach to music: I have always taken a very organic approach to music. Though I've studied writing and instrumental performance (cello and trombone,) my music stems from the stories and emotions of everyday life. My sound is a mixture of my influences which include rhythm and blues from the west coast, film and orchestral scores, and poetry in motion such as hip hop / rap. I find that there are two types of musical presentations I focus on: Music for the aural experience such as in concert halls and seated music venues, and music for social occasions such as dancing, drinking, and standing.
Favorite venue: For me, the crowd makes the show but I always like the presentation at Joe's Pub in NYC. They have a tremendous team for sound and lights, as well as a slick room which makes it easy to put on a good show. There's a venue in a converted old style movie theater a small Austrian mountain town called Ebensee, where the people are loads of fun. I had a great time there. It was the first time I ever did a stage dive! They also make their own beer in that town.
Treatment-wise, when things go smoothly I enjoy playing at union supported halls such as BAM Harvey Theater, Hammerstein Ballroom, Alice Tully Hall (for rare non-classical shows.) I like the personal connection of the smaller venues as well such as the Jazz Gallery and Casa Frela Gallery.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why? As probably the case with many artists, I am most excited about my newest recording Anthems of Life, which is a collection of collaborations with poets, singers, and MCs. It's also the first time I've spent such a long time on one project (one year), so it really feels like every sound has a place in the picture.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? Something I have been doing with my music, which is important for my musicians as well as the public, is bridging cultures. I like to group capable people into situations that they normally wouldn't get to on their own, such as bringing rappers and poets in touch with my live band. I also find the acoustic instrumental and melodic composition of my music bridges gaps of language, age/generational, cultural, and even genre specific boundaries. Most shows I get people who say "You know, I don't like hip hop or rap, but I love what you are doing," or "I love the CD, but I was even more surprised when my parents did too."
Did you know... I am psychic... just kidding. I love to cook but hate the dishes, so when I find someone who is willing to do dishes, I will cook every day.
How do you use the internet to help your career? Having a website is almost a given nowadays. Clear concise content is the way to go. If you see my website ( www.DanaLeong.com ) or myspace link (www.myspace.com/DanaLeong ), you'll quickly see the basics of who I am, how to sign up for news, what I do, sound like, and how to obtain music and see live shows. Like most artists, I depend heavily on ticket sales as well as record sales, and I do find the awareness created by my internet presence does translate to bigger audiences for the live shows. It has also been a valuable tool for collaborative works as I can work from my private recording studio in Manhattan, then transfer sound files to people I work with in other cities and countries without leaving home. After exhausting searches through the vast digital world, I've even found a few artists whom with I cultivate collaborative relationships.
What is in the near future? My newest record Anthems of Life will celebrate release Nov. 14th 7pm at the Knitting Factory, NYC. November 14th also marks the beginning of a two-month world tour we will be doing, with the Dana Leong Band representing the United States as musical cultural ambassadors. The tour is sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center and the US Department of State, and is part of a longstanding tradition that has included such artists as Dizzie Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. As a selected artist, I was given the choice of going anywhere in the world for six weeks. Believe that!