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Leonieke Scheuble's Journey Into The Art Of Jazz

Leonieke Scheuble's Journey Into The Art Of Jazz
David A. Orthmann By

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The setting is a living room in a suburban northern New Jersey home. For the most part, it's filled with things not necessarily available at the furniture outlets that line the local highways. An upright piano takes up most of the wall adjacent to the front door. A harpsichord spans the area between the entrances to the kitchen and the dining room. A comfortable sofa is placed between a Hammond B-3 organ and a Leslie speaker. It is clearly a space where the "living" in living room is synonymous with making music. And for this occasion, a rehearsal for keyboardist Leonieke Scheuble's upcoming, three-day recording session, a full set of drums and a conga are positioned close to the center of the room.

Leonieke ("lay-o-nee-ka") is on a summer vacation before entering her freshman year in high school. She is the daughter of Theresa, an engineer, and Nick, a jazz drummer, composer and bandleader who has been active in area venues for over thirty years. Inspired by the Ray Charles biopic, Ray, she took up the piano at age six, and has been at it ever since. Enamored of the blues and soulful sounds in general, everything Leonieke plays is in the service of making music in the moment. Her shy, quiet demeanor belies an inquisitive mind and a determination to solve musical problems on her own terms even while navigating the art of jazz performance, an intensely social practice. I recall an incident from a few years ago, during her father's Sunday morning gig at a local farmers market, where, between sets, Leonieke was encouraged to try out Ron Oswanski's portable Hammond organ. When she sat down there was nothing tentative or child-like in her approach to the instrument. Here was an old soul intent on playing everything for keeps.

In the past few years, Leonieke has received an impressive amount of support from the jazz community. In 2013 she won the International Women In Jazz "Youth In Action" Award. In 2015 she was the "Best Up-and-Coming Young Artist" Hothouse [Magazine] Award winner (see video below). The legendary Rudy Van Gelder engineered Debut, Leonieke's first commercial CD, in his Englewood Cliffs, NJ studio. The Hammond B-3 organ in the Scheuble's living room was a gift to her from a 2017 National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master, Dr. Lonnie Smith. For several years she's studied with the noted jazz pianist, Steve Ash, and has received valuable advice and assistance from Bob Belden, Antoinette Montague, John Girvin, and Champian Fulton.

Father and daughter work their way through the harmonic structure of the standard "These Foolish Things," talking and playing while Max, Leonieke's younger brother, wanders in and out of the room, having fun with Jasper, the family dog, and occasionally landing a few light hits on the conga. Nick and Leonieke anticipate the arrival of bassist Tim Givens, who has worked most of Leonieke's live gigs and played on Debut. Without any prompting Nick comments that Givens "hears everything," and Leonieke adds, "he's so easy to work with." As if entering on cue, Givens arrives, bass in tow, and readies himself to rehearse. Both Nick and Givens have been on the receiving end of rear end automobile collisions, and a brief dialogue ensues about the insurance payout for vehicles of a certain age.

A solo order is briefly discussed, Leonieke counts off a tantalizingly slow tempo, and the trio begins "Please Send Me Someone To Love." She offers blues effusions on the tune's melody, and during her solo Givens tactfully wraps his bass around her lines. Givens' improvisation is both closely related to the material and highly individualistic. Leonieke finds a climax of sorts on the out head of the song. The trio replays the ending, just to make sure it works to their satisfaction. Another coda is conceived on the spot. Nick explains that all of today's effort is a means of devising just enough structure to walk into the recording studio and play. He emphasizes that nothing is etched in stone, and things that sound fine during a rehearsal are often subject to change.

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