Leron Thomas: Zen-Mode Humor
Thomas isn't the only one on Whatever who can be heard offering an inspired performance, the rest of the band is right along with their leader, playing unforgettable and jaw-dropping performances. When asked about how Thomas felt about how his sidemen performed about the record, he just gave a devilish look and laughed. The talkative trumpeter who has dozens to say about any topic fell silent and just smiled when he attempted to talk about Taylor Eigsti's playing.
"The playing?" Thomas states as a half-question. "I mean Taylor's solos man. Michael's solos and the maturity of Matthew's solos?" "Sometimes you hear guitarist riff off but [Stevens] is so patient like a horn player. Matthew Steven's solo on 'Silly Ass,' was amazing," commented Thomas with a smile on his face.
Whatever isn't just another jazz record where audiences can marvel at the technical facility and virtuosity of each musician featured. "Whatever," the title track of the album, has a very special meaning to Thomas and defines him during this stage of his evolution. "I wrote that ballad when I was getting evicted some years ago and that was around the time I was doing Dirty Draws Vol 1," Thomas remembers. "I got tired of feeling like I needed to define myself and so I said 'Whatever.' I got tired of it man."
"The audiences in New York that listen to jazzsome of them are not cool. The students are looking for that alley-oopit's like a basketball gameyou set them up with an alley- oop and the crowd goes 'Ooh, killing man!' So you feel like you have to play certain kind of etiquette solos to get that 'Whoo!' You gotta play that bad lick."
The nature of jazz concerts is a give and take between the audience and the performer. Those on the bandstand play some crazy poly- rhythmic thing, and then the audience goes "Whoo!" That feeling of needing to play that bad lick is nothing new in jazz and it's the feeling that every jazz musician has felt, feels, and will feel. Art Tatum didn't get to be "God" without playing a few bad licks during cutting competitions, and the sense of showmanship and trying to please the audience is good for the music. But when playing the new hip lick or trying to please the audience becomes a preeminent reason to play over expression, it becomes a problem for the artist.
"I've seen a lot of people's careers and they look [like] they're on top but they get into that slippery slope because they get into that mentality of giving people what they want and not giving the [audience] them," Thomas reveals. "That's why I try not to define myself too much manI don't know who the fuck I am as an artist," Thomas admits. "Some days I feel like a jazz musician, some days I feel like a rock star, I don't fucking know. And I think that's fine."
A trait that Thomas is well aware of is his humor. The videos on his YouTube account including one of Bill Cosby playing tennis to his song "Blush" and the overall tune of his Dirty Draws Volumes can suggest that Thomas is our jazz jester. But there is a method to the madness in the music of Leron Thomas. "All the best artists were comical---Miles Davis was comical. How the hell are you going to do an album with all these badass songs in it then 'Nothing Like You,' on Sorcerer?" Thomas asks. "How the hell are you going to do that? At the same time, Charlie Parker! Charlie Parker would make these funny jokes. He would do Bach out of nowhere, or impose a standard over the changes of another song. There is nobody I know that was an amazing composer that wasn't funny."