Parkland Press

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Leonhardt Trio puts jazz spin on some Christmas classics

Friday, December 14, 2018 by GEORGE VANDOREN Special to The Press in Focus

The David Leonhardt Trio returns to Miller Symphony Hall with “A Winter Holiday Jazz Concert” in the “Jazz Upstairs’ series, Rodale Community Room, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14.

The concert features selections from the group’s CD, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

The ensemble has played numerous festivals and concert venues across the United States and around the globe, including such venerable jazz venues as the Apollo Theater, Blue Note, and Birdland.

Leader and pianist Leonhardt is joined by Matthew Parrish, bass, and Paul Wells, drums. The trio is a long-standing one. Parrish has been with Leonhardt for 25 years and Wells has been with him for 15 years.

Leonhardt earned his chops the old-fashioned way. He started as a rock ’n’ roll and country guitar player while a teenager in Kentucky just outside of Louisville. When he decided to play jazz piano, he found someone who lived nearby to jam with, Jamey Abersold.

Yes, that Jamey Aebersold.

Wilton Jameson “Jamey” Aebersold more or less invented the “Play-A-Long” series, which now runs to 133 volumes of jazz recordings and books. Aebersold also has hosted his famous summer jazz workshops for 50 years the University of Louisville in Kentucky, and received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award in 2014.

Leonhardt didn’t connect with Aebersold to study. He connected to play.

“I started going to his house and played with him, with different rhythm sections,” says Leonhardt in a phone interview. “It was: ‘Learn this song for next week.’ I was just trying not to be the worst person in the room.”

Leonhardt must have done OK since he made his living playing jazz in the Louisville area for four or five years. He moved to New York City in the 1970s. He toured for four years with legendary vocalist Jon Hendricks. Later, he joined the David “Fat Head” Newman Quintet and stayed for some 20 years.

“I didn’t come up through schools,” Leonhardt says. “I was working. All of my mentors were people I was working with. Being with Jon Hendricks full-time on the road, knowing he could fire me at any moment, I learned how to present myself.

“Hendricks first pianist was Art Tatum, maybe the best jazz pianist ever. It was like an internship.

“Then with Fathead, we did real hardcore jazz at the Vanguard. He’d have me play these long solos.”

Leonhardt has released 25 CDs out under his own name, including seven CDs of music for tap dancers. “They’re kind of like play-along CDs used for teaching tap. One cut was recently used in a major motion picture in France.

Because of his tap connection, Leonhardt will be part of the Master Choreographers program, Feb. 7-9, 2019, at Muhlenberg College.

Parrish studied jazz performance at Rutgers University and with such notables as Larry Ridley and Charles Fambrough. He has performed with top jazz artists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Regina Carter, Harry Sweets Edison, Etta Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Houston Person, Paquito D’Rivera and Clark Terry. Parrish has performed on more than 50 CDs, including his debut CD, “Circles.”

Wells attended the jazz studies program at William Paterson University, and has studied privately with John Riley, Kenny Washington and Bill Stewart. He tours internationally with jazz vocalist Curtis Stigers and is a member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks. He also has performed with a who’s who of jazz performers, including Randy Brecker, Diana Krall, Wynton Marsalis, Joe Williams, and The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

Asked about the Miller Symphony Hall concert, Leonhardt says, “It will be based on our holiday CD. They’re really fun arrangements that kind of play themselves.

“People really like it because they recognize the tunes.

“Because I’ve done so many different performances across genres, I really see the value of accessibility for the audience. If they recognize the melody, it allows me to make really high quality improvisation accessible.”

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown;; 610-432-6715