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?
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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