All That Jazz… An Interview With Leron Thomas (@LERONSKY) !

Photo credit: Dailyswa Laurel

Photo cred­it: Dailyswa Laurel

Ler­on Thomas’ music­al jour­ney began in his homet­own of Hou­s­ton Texas, always inspired by fam­ily rich with respect and under­stand­ing of qual­ity music. After gradu­at­ing from Houston’s dis­tin­guished High School for the Per­form­ing and Visu­al Arts, he ven­tured to New York City to devel­op as a trum­pet play­er and com­poser, enrolling in Manhattan’s The New School. While study­ing, his own music was evolving and matur­ing.
Recog­nized for this he began per­form­ing pro­fes­sion­ally with vari­ous artists includ­ing Bilal, Billy Harp­er, Charles Tolli­v­er and Roy Har­grove. The qual­ity of his ori­gin­al com­pos­i­tions was enhanced when play­ing live along­side tal­en­ted peers Robert Glasper, Dami­on Reid, Vicente Arch­er, Mar­cus Strick­land, Har­old O’Neal, Isaac Smith, Reg­gie Quin­erly and Omer Avi­tal. Ler­on gradu­ated from The New School in 2003 with an iden­ti­fi­able sound, recog­nized by The New York Times, amongst oth­ers. Stay­ing in Man­hat­tan to pur­sue his pro­fes­sion­al career as a writer and trum­pet play­er, Ler­on worked with many more artists from a vari­ety of genre’s includ­ing Michael Stipe, Lauryn Hill, Bobby Wat­son and Mos Def, to name a few. Sub­sequently he found ways to lib­er­ate him­self through a nat­ur­al, flu­id pro­gres­sion into writ­ing and per­form­ing ‘oth­er music’. These com­pos­i­tions required his per­son­al trum­pet tone along with his unique vocals to emphas­ize the diverse sound. From 2004 onwards he developed this genre-cross­ing music incor­por­at­ing sing­er-song­writer, jazz, funk, elec­tro-pop and rock.

With nine inde­pend­ently released pro­jects and a vinyl re-release of ..Take It on Belgium’s On Point Records, Ler­on con­tin­ues to receive crit­ic­al acclaim and explore a range of artist­ic media. Hav­ing music in film he also acted in an inde­pend­ent short film and is fea­tured on Gilles Peterson’s Browns­wood Bub­blers Eight, Zara McFar­lane’s If You Knew Her (Browns­wood Record­ings), GUTS’ Hip Hop After All (Heav­enly Sweet­ness), Jason Mor­an’s All Rise: A Joy­ful Elegy for Fats Wall­er (Blu­e­note Records) and Asagaya’s Light Of The Dawn (Jakarta Records). Ler­on Thomas cur­rently tours inter­na­tion­ally rep­res­ent­ing his own mater­i­al and also fea­tures in the GUTS live band and Jason Moran’s Fats Wall­er Dance Party.

Q. When did you first dis­cov­er Jazz music? What was your most earli­est exper­i­ence of the art form?

​I was 10 years old, in the car with my par­ents and for some reas­on they decided to listen to the jazz sta­tion. I remembered that it was a con­ver­sa­tion with instru­ments and I felt like I did­n’t know the lan­guage and was imme­di­ately inter­ested.​

Q. Jazz like Hip Hop is rooted with a lot of cul­ture… How have you used your music as a means of social expres­sion and lib­er­a­tion?

​Jazz, like the cul­ture and people the music comes from, spun off many dif­fer­ent art forms and in that sense Jazz has always wanted to be free of title. ​ ​This is the spir­it that I hope that I’m car­ry­ing in the music that I do.​

Q. You have shared the stage with many of the greats in this industry! What was it like per­form­ing with Lauryn Hill?

​It was a very instruct­ive exper­i­ence. I learned patience, pro­fes­sion­al­ism and she actu­ally intro­duced me to the music of Yoko Ono.​

Q. You have released nine highly recog­nized inde­pend­ent pro­jects, what are the pros and cons of being an inde­pend­ent artist?  

The pros, artist­ic free­dom. You get to know what you’re cap­able of without out­er entit­ies inter­ven­ing in the cre­at­ive pro­cess.​ There’s also the under­stand­ing of one’s work eth­ic. This is a gift.

As far as cons, some­times it’s hard to know when to com­prom­ise with the industry because this too is also neces­sary. At least for me, because it can be chal­len­ging to get one’s music to audi­ences with the digit­al mar­ket so flooded with new music. And new music is not always great music.

Q. Tell us about your new album Cliquish?

‘Cliquish’ high­lights my dis­co­graphy to date as a multi-genre artist who does not belong to any par­tic­u­lar clique or niche. A new set of com­pos­i­tions accu­mu­lated over the past couple of years when work­ing on my last pro­ject, ‘Whatever’. I took the oppor­tun­ity to record the mater­i­al in Par­is with the sup­port of the Heav­enly Sweet­ness label. I con­tin­ued record­ing and edit­ing the mater­i­al in New York and brought the album back to Par­is for mix­ing and Lon­don for mas­ter­ing.

The album as a whole mar­ries the live with the elec­tro ele­ment which is a sound I’ve been inter­ested in for years. I needed these dynam­ics for the stor­ies that I wanted to tell. As much as I see tech­no­logy speed­ing up, I also see people becom­ing more self con­scious. I feel this is where ‘Cliquish’ resides.

Q. How has your music evolved over the years in terms of cross­ing genres and attract­ing new audi­ences?

The con­di­tions in New York becom­ing more Wall Street, touristy, and col­lege cam­pus based affected the jazz scene. As a res­ult it was a priv­ileged moment for me to explore and invest­ig­ate my oth­er influ­ences. This led to me com­ing up with a style that even I wasn’t par­tic­u­larly ready for, but knew it was the right path for me.

At first I knew noth­ing about pro­duc­tion but had a great under­stand­ing of com­pos­i­tion. Iron­ic­ally, the more I learned about pro­duc­tion etiquette, the more I real­ised how unique my raw pro­duc­tion tech­nique was a part of my sound. I nat­ur­ally heard things that way. The chal­lenge was to cre­ate a great, well pro­duced pro­ject, yet still have the raw­ness needed to com­plete the sound.

In Jazz, the listen­er is usu­ally exposed to a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent pro­duc­tion; ie. Bootlegs of Charlie Park­er up against Kenny Kirk­land all in one sit­ting on Jazz radio sta­tions. The only con­stant in this con­di­tion is the qual­ity of the music. Dif­fer­ent qual­ity of pro­duc­tion and tech­no­logy only serve as a con­vey­er of the times and social con­di­tions, to a Jazz listen­er. My con­ten­tion is that this under­stand­ing does not only apply to a Jazz listen­er. And it has been in this real­iz­a­tion and evol­u­tion that I have been reach­ing new audi­ences.

Q. You are play­ing the Jazz Café next month! What can we expect from the show?

A wang-dang-doodle!

Q. Also play­ing at the Jazz Café along­side your­self is Hip Hop pro­du­cer GUTS, what was it like work­ing with him on ‘Hip Hop After All (Heav­enly Sweet­ness)’?

It was a great exper­i­ence. Guts’ music pulls me out of my com­fort zone and forces me into music­al pos­i­tions that I did not know that I was cap­able of. When I heard the beat for ‘Man Funk’ I looked at him at first, like “are you ser­i­ous?” but before I could say that he was look­ing at me with great ser­i­ous­ness. I went home and wrote the lyr­ics. When we fin­ished the track the next day we imme­di­ately knew we were going to be work­ing togeth­er more in the future.

Q. What is your all-time favour­ite book and why?

The Bible. And you know why.


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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.

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