Leon Thomas is one of the most unique and gifted of all jazz vocalists, he shocked the jazz world with his amazing capabilities when he took it by storm in the late 1960s with his collaborations with Pharoah Sanders.
Leon Thomas born in East St. Louis, Illinois on Oct. 4 1937, and studied music at Tennesseee State University, eventually moving to New York City in 1958. Early sessions included work with names like Count Basie, Randy Weston, Roland Kirk and Oliver Nelson before linking up with Pharoah Sanders for a partnership that continues to entrance listeners today.
Leon recorded on two of Sanders’ most renowned classics “Karma,” (1969) and “Jewels Of Thought,” (1970) and his vocals on the cuts "The Creator Has A Master Plan" and "Hum-Allah" have ensured his reputation. Just as Sonny Sharrock's startling guitar was the unique foil for Pharoah's slashing saxophone, so Leon Thomas had the virtuosity, intensity and blinding originality to keep up with Sanders. It was on these recordings that Leon revealed his unique vocal gift which might best be described as kind of scat-yodelling, offbeat and wonderful sounds which seem to well up from his inner being.
Having made his name with Pharoah, Leon was ready for a solo career and the Flying Dutchman label stepped in with a deal. The label represented total freedom and support for the artist and Thomas responded to this environment with a series of great albums.
He started with the majestic “Spirits Known And Unknown,”(1969) followed quickly by “The Leon Thomas Album.” A couple of engaging live albums followed before the release of two excellent albums, “Blues And The Soulful Truth,” (1972) and “Full Circle,” (1973) the first of these was an up blues-based LP full of vivacity and humour which included a vocal take of "Gypsy Queen" which is a testament to Thomas' invention.
These Leon Thomas albums were a heady brew of soul- jazz, free-jazz, blues, Latin Percussion, "world music" and drove paths through spirituality, black consciousness, black power, urban jive and anti-Vietnam war politics. He was at the cutting edge of radical black music that held John Coltrane as its figurehead and could also be found on labels like Black Jazz.
Thomas' profile was very high in the free-jazz scene as witnessed by dates with high profile figures in the movement like Ornette Coleman, Roland Kirk and Archie Shepp but he was also catching the ear of some of the jazz greats including Louis Armstrong and Johnny Hodges. In one of the most curious but exhilarating combinations in jazz, Leon Thomas appeared on Louis Armstong's last album and cut a version of "The Creator Has A Master Plan" with the man himself.