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Interviews

Michael Leonhart: A Fortunate Son

By Published: May 18, 2010
"There's a Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
b.1933
producer
quote, 'Make music that gives you goosebumps first,'" he said. "I wanted to make music that gave me the thrills, the chills, and that's basically the main motivator. From an intellectual standpoint, I do believe that significant artists' discographies usually have a thread that connects the entire body of work. That said, my first album was a hardcore trumpet album, by the second and third albums I was singing, playing multiple instruments and experimenting with popular song structure, and by the time we get to Seahorse, there's a real combination of elements from the previous six albums."

Michael Leonhart with percussionist Dende

Leonhart adds his 2008 release Hotel Music (St. Ives) was done as he was on the road touring with the 2007 Steely Dan world tour. Originally a limited release of just 200 vinyl copies, with hand painted artwork, it's now available digitally on iTunes. Leonhart plans to release it on CD when the rights expire.



"It's part vintage Pink Floyd, part Animal Collective—washy, drugged-out, almost film score-like, very very soft and drenched with vocals, and it couldn't be a more polar opposite of Seahorse, except to me it feels like I'm singing and playing trumpet as I always do, just over a different backdrop," he said. "But even there, it's the lyrics and the melodies that all tie it together. On Seahorse, I brought it full-circle—the horn playing is rooted in the same angular, edgy thing that Aardvark Poses was all about, and I hear the same tendency towards minimalist funk grooves that appeared on Glub, Glub.



"I would hope that there's less cliché, a lot more unique chance-taking," Leonhart said. "I tried to shed all the clichés of modern jazz and R&B—the Miles Davis

Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
, Chet Baker
Chet Baker
Chet Baker
1929 - 1988
trumpet
, The Beatles
The Beatles
The Beatles

band/orchestra
references. If this makes sense, when you're making an album like Seahorse, you distill all of your influences down to what feels most personal and essential. It may sound arrogant, but the question is, are you trying to just mimic, or create your own sound? Don't worry though—you can dance to all of it."



He said, in a way, the recording was akin to a sculptor carving away what doesn't belong.



"For me, starting with Hotel Music, I really let myself go free into exploring all the things that might be crazy, weird, abstract," Loenhart said. "I'm not 20 anymore; I'm somewhat proven and a known quantity, I can start taking chances. When you're younger you doubt yourself. Now, there wasn't a lot of doubt. I don't have time to judge; I'm married, I'm a parent, I've got a lot more hours logged under my belt. I think I'm more natural and fluent in the language of recording. I feel more experienced with song form. I know more of the sounds I want to get right off in terms of producing and orchestrating. Now it's about having the balls to go, 'I'm going to do it this way,' and I only hope that as I get older, I get even more fearless."

Leonhart has established a strong online presence, using Twitter, MySpace and Facebook to be a more accessible musician. Unlike such performers as Miles Davis—who sometimes played with his back towards the audience— or Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
1917 - 1987
drums
, who would kick people out of his shows that he didn't like, Leonhart is comfortable being himself in front of his fans and audience.



"I have had the luxury of working with some of the best in the business," he said. "So to me, it all boils down to the fact that I don't like artificiality. I think I have, and I want to have, a 'good bedside manner' — especially now. I spent many years in my 20s working from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. recording—single, isolated, in my own little sonic laboratory world. And I loved it.



"But now I'm grown up, I married a woman who was a great friend," he added. "In Jamie, I really found my soul mate. Then I had a child, and a dog, and now I think maybe it's good to share your life and experiences with people. Part of the thrill of being a jazz musician is you never know what's around the corner. Although I do have my lone-wolf moments. I usually feel comfortable, but recently I saw a bunch of people at the Village Vanguard, and for some odd reason, I didn't feel like hanging out with anybody. I wanted a little isolation booth. Some things are more intimidating than others, I don't know why."



Leonhart said if he hadn't become a musician he may have been a psychologist, which he said can be like being a musician.



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