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Leigh Pilzer

“A force of nature on the baritone.” –Adam Narimatsu, CapitalBop

Washington, DC native Leigh Pilzer is a baritone saxophone specialist, composer, arranger, and educator. Her performance resume includes appearances with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore’s Soulful Symphony, and more. She is also a bandleader in her own right, leading the Leigh Pilzer Startet, her all-star quartet/quintet; organ group Leigh Pilzer’s Low Standards; and her latest project, Leigh Pilzer’s Seven Pointed Star. She also co-leads PALS, a duo with bassist Amy Shook and JLQ, the Jen Krupa-Leigh Pilzer Quintet. Pilzer has presented her groups to enthusiastic audience response at top venues including Blues Alley, Keystone Korner, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, and the Atlas Performing Arts Center, to name a few. 

Pilzer is an in-demand composer and arranger whose music is performed by jazz ensembles and brass quintets throughout the country, as well as by the DC-area premier military jazz ensembles. She has contributed a number of works to the libraries of SJMO, DIVA, and BCJO, including “East Coast Andy,” the opening track on DIVA’s critically acclaimed 25th Anniversary Project. Other notable writing credits include orchestrations for the Broadway production of Maurice Hines Tappin Thru Life and horn section arrangements for recordings by Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy. Pilzer is a Brava Jazz Publishing artist, and commissions include an arrangement for the University of Maryland Jazz Ensemble’s inaugural recording. Her most recent writing project is a library of compositions and arrangements for her septet, Leigh Pilzer’s Seven Pointed Star. The group’s debut recording, released in March, 2024, includes eight of Pilzer’s original compositions and one by long-time colleague, bassist Amy Shook, all exquisitely arranged by Pilzer for trumpet, alto, trombone, bari/bass clarinet, piano, bass, and drums. 

As an educator, Pilzer has served on the faculties of University of Maryland, George Mason University, and Towson University. Her teaching responsibilities have included Jazz Theory, Jazz Arranging, Jazz History, Fundamentals of Rock, Blues, and Jazz, and Chamber Jazz Ensemble. She has mentored for Strathmore’s Institute for Artistic Development Artist in Residence (AIR) program and for the North American Saxophone Alliance’s Committee for Gender Equality (CGE), and she strives to serve as a mentor and role model for all her students. 

In addition to her classroom teaching, Pilzer is an engaging speaker who has presented at the Jazz Education Network conference, “Beyond the Notes,” George Mason University’s Musicology lecture series, and for numerous educational initiatives including the Washington Women in Jazz Festival, University of Maryland Jazz Studies Department, the Baltimore Jazz Education Project, NASA’s CGE, and Strathmore’s AIR program. In recognition for Pilzer’s work as a presenter, performer, educator, bandleader, and presenter, in 2023 the Capital Hill Jazz Foundation presented her with the D.C. Jazz Leaders in Service Award.

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Album Review

Leigh Pilzer: Beatin' the Odds

Read "Beatin' the Odds" reviewed by Jack Bowers

Beatin' the Odds. To baritone saxophonist Leigh Pilzer, that is far more than a catchphrase: it is a grim yet ultimately happy reality. In 2017, Pilzer was diagnosed with cancer. After extensive treatments, her odds of surviving more than five years were reckoned as around thirty percent. But six years have gone by, and not only has Pilzer beaten the odds, she is cancer-free, back in the saddle and performing again. And not only performing but writing ...

Album Review

Diva Jazz Orchestra: "30": Live at Dizzy's Club

Read ""30": Live at Dizzy's Club" reviewed by Jack Bowers

The “30" in the title of the superlative all-woman Diva Jazz Orchestra's latest album stands for 30 years, which, believe it or not, is how long the orchestra and its remarkable drummer and leader, Sherrie Maricle, have been up and running and making beautiful music at home and abroad. Among U.S.-based big bands, it would seem that only Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Woody Herman have had longer runs than that. Fast company indeed. So is Diva ready for comparisons? ...

Album Review

The DIVA Jazz Orchestra: Swings Broadway

Read "Swings Broadway" reviewed by Jack Bowers

At the ripe old age of thirty (closer to a hundred in big-band years), the superlative New York-based, all-female DIVA Jazz Orchestra remains as frisky as a newborn colt, swinging up, down and around Broadway with abandon on its thirteenth album, a brisk and colorful tribute to the Great White Way that shines brightly from start to finish. The album opens and closes in a mid-1950s vein, raising the curtain with Steven Feifke's breezy, well-grooved arrangement of ...

Album Review

The Scott Silbert Big Band: Jump Children

Read "Jump Children" reviewed by Jack Bowers

The best music, in jazz or any other genre, is and should be timeless. To prove the point, the Scott Silbert Big Band celebrates the songs of a bygone era on its debut album, Jump Children, refreshing a number of memorable themes from the '30s, '40s and '50s and underscoring their relevance in an ultra-modern twenty-first century environment. His goal, Silbert writes, was “to represent the fantastic musicianship of the artists [who] originally performed these works," venerated masters such as ...

Album Review

Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra: Bernstein Reimagined

Read "Bernstein Reimagined" reviewed by Jack Bowers

This impressive anthology by the superb Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra is not so much Bernstein Reimagined as Bernstein Unleashed. The jazz component in Leonard Bernstein's memorable compositions for symphony orchestra, Broadway shows, films and even liturgical works always lay simmering just below the surface. As Bernstein is said to have confided to Duke Ellington: “Maybe that's really the difference between us. You write symphonic jazz, and I write jazz symphonies." However credible the remark, there is no doubt that the ...

Album Review

The DIVA Jazz Orchestra: DIVA + The Boys

Read "DIVA + The Boys" reviewed by Dan Bilawsky

The all-female DIVA Jazz Orchesta has a boy-meets-girls story threaded into its origin, as drummer Stanley Kay served as the impetus behind the group's formation. Therefore, it's only fitting that the ladies have a few gentleman over to join them for some high times in the music every now and then. This eight-song set, recorded live at Pittsburgh's Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in March of 2017, finds clarinetist Ken Peplowski, dearly departed trumpeter Claudio Roditi, trombonist Jay Ashby, and ...

Album Review

The DIVA Jazz Orchestra: DIVA + the Boys

Read "DIVA + the Boys" reviewed by Jack Bowers

After more than twenty-five years as one of the world's most renowned big bands, drummer Sherrie Maricle's superlative all-female DIVA Jazz Orchestra invited a quartet of “the boys" onboard to help ensure the ensemble's twelfth album's success. Even though DIVA needs no consorts to affirm its unremitting mastery, it is nonetheless pleasurable to witness these talented women sharing the stage and blowing up a storm with such esteemed guest artists as clarinetist Ken Peplowski, trombonist Jay Ashby and (it hurts ...

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"This CD shows off not only Leigh Pilzer’s talents as a musician and writer but the talent of everyone in her band. This makes a fine calling card for musicians who deserve to be better known." —All About Jazz

"Strunkin’ purveys the straight-ahead jazz torch, showing a modern generation what makes this classic genre so iconic and timeless." —Blogcritics

"Pilzer blows the big horn with the technique and panache of Mulligan, Challoff, Payne, Cuber, Temperley and just about any other baritone saxist you care to mention and after you've listened to Miss Ally in Allywood, you'll add Harry Carney to the mix." —Bebop Spoken Here

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Pepper Adams
saxophone, baritone
Dexter Gordon
saxophone, tenor
Hank Mobley
saxophone, tenor
Gerry Mulligan
saxophone, baritone



Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Beatin' the Odds

Self Produced


Jump Children

Self Produced


Swings Broadway

Diva Records


DIVA + the Boys

MCG Jazz


Dream With Me

From: Bernstein Reimagined
By Leigh Pilzer


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