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Michael Leonhart: A Fortunate Son

By Published: May 18, 2010
"Being a jazz musician and producer, it's kind of like being a therapist—you can't hide your shit from people," he said. "If I'm going to connect with someone, if you wanna be heard, I say, say it directly. I spend my time and energy trying to learn what I'm thinking, rather than holding it in. If I'm working on an album, it has to be honest, it has to go for broke without shutting down. Working eight hours a day recording, I had to find a way to communicate directly with my wife and son. If I'm going to have successful relationships, both at home and in art, the goal is to be a straight shooter. The more you do it, the better you get."

Leonhart admits winning a Grammy at the age of 17 put added pressure on him, "because I was already constantly distracted by the enormous pressure I felt of trying to play the damn trumpet."

"One thing I'm proud of is that I never really stopped to think much about the Grammy, I just kept on focusing on writing, performing and creating a fantastical world of my own," he said. "I was much more interested in looking for what new things people were creating out in the real world."

Leonhart said his influences range from such composers as Henry Mancini

Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
, Ravel, Stravinsky, Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
to Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
, Hacke Bjorksten and Elvis Costello. His favorite authors and film makers are those the exploring "whole fantasy vs. reality dynamic": Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jules Verne, Lewis Carroll, and directors like Fellini, Truffaut, Luis Bunuel, Hitchcock, Wes Anderson and Woody Allen. And, naturally, Oliver Sacks.

When he can find the time to enjoy such books and movies is hard to tell, though: in addition to his growing family (he and Jamie have a 9-month-old son, Milo Quincy), Leonhart has several documentaries he's been working on, could join Donald Fagen on Fagen's solo tour in August/September, will be playing with Ben Citroen in Japan's Cotton Club, and with Morocco Lee Fields and the Expressions. He's also wrapping a soundtrack project for Dominican Republic, a movie about underwater cave diving.

"They wanted a really retro-psychedelic, late 1960s/early 1970s sound," he said. I'm also working on supervising music for a potential children's TV show—it'll be kind of a cross between Fraggle Rock and Schoolhouse Rock, and that's the goal—to add the same kind of up-to-dateness and hip vibe that those shows had in the '70s, with Joe Raposo throwing jazz and funk licks into music for The Electric Company and even Sesame Street."

Selected Discography

Michael Leonhart and The Avramina 7, Seahorse and the Storyteller (Truth and Soul Records, 2010)

Sam Sadigursky, Words Project III Miniatures (New Amsterdam Records, 2010) Michael Leonhart, Hotel Music (St. Ives, 2008)

Michael Leonhart, The Battle of Milton Quigley (2006)

Michael Leonhart, The Suzy Lattimore EP (self-produced, 2005)

Steve Tyrell, This Guy's In Love (Columbia, 2003)

Michael Leonhart, Slow (Sunny Side, 2002)

Barry Wallenstein, Tony's Blues (Cadence Jazz Records, 2001)

Steely Dan, Two Against Nature (Giant Records, 2000)

Vinicius Cantuária, Tucumã (Verve, 1999)

Michael Leonhart, Glub Glub vol. 11 (Sunny Side, 1997)

Michael Leonhart, Aardvark Poses (Sunny Side, 1995)

Photo credits

Pages 1, 4: Truth and Soul Records

Pages 2, 3, featured story: Maarten Mooijman

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