The Carolyn Leonhart & Wayne Escoffery Group will be performing at SMOKE Jazz Club in NYC for a Valentines Weekend celebration on February 14th, 15th & 16th, 2008.
The Carolyn Leonhart & Wayne Escoffery Group
Carolyn Leonhart - vocals
Wayne Escoffery - tenor & soprano saxophones
Kevin Hays- piano
Ugonna Okegwo- bass
Billy Drummond- drums
Leonhart inflects her jazz singing with an unmistakable dose of soul and R & B, not unlike Chaka Khan or even Ricki Lee Jones" -David Adler, All About Jazz
Wayne Escoffery is a powerful, passionate player." --Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times Magazine
Carolyn Leonhart is some swingin canary. You never know what this chick is gonna do next." -Donald Fagen Steely Dan
Escoffery is a young, self-assured, hard-swinging tenor saxophonist." -Ben Ratliff, The New York Times
Carolyn Leonhart bio
Carolyn Leonhart has been surrounded by music her entire life. Born into a family of musicians, Carolyn was singing as soon as she could talk. As a young child she traveled with her father, noted bassist Jay Leonhart, to gigs and watched him accompany legends like Sarah Vaughn, Mel Torme, and Peggy Lee. On her own, she listened to recordings of Vaughn, Carmen McRae, and Johnny Hartman as well as Stevie Wonder, The Doobie Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire, and Steely Dan.
By the age of 9, the native of Manhattan's Upper West Side was singing on children's albums and doing jingles for TV commercials. Later, when it was time to choose a high school, it was music that helped inform her decision. I was on a tour of LaGuardia High School for Music and the Arts and suddenly the most beautiful music I'd ever heard was coming from a room down the hall. I broke away from the tour, ran down the hall and discovered it was their award-winning gospel choir," Carolyn recalls. That was when I knew I was going to that school." Carolyn was accepted into the voice program at the famed school and was a featured soloist in the choir for three years.
At home, she would spend hours working on jazz standards with her father and her brother, trumpeter and pianist Michael. There was practically a rhythm section in my house at all times. All I had to do was sing," she says. When Carolyn was sixteen, her father invited her to sit in with him at The Blue Note, where he was doing the weekly Sunday brunch. She jumped at the chance. My dad would start changing keys while I was singing just for the hell of it, forcing me to follow him," Carolyn says, now laughing about it. I was completely upset at the time that he made me do that, but I later realized how lucky I was to have had that kind of experience. He was testing me. You had to know what you were doing, or get off stage." That testing would pay off: In her senior year, she won The Lena Horne High School Jazz Vocalist Competition.
Although pursuing a career in music was never a question for Carolyn, she decided to attend the University of Rochester, where she earned a degree in Comparative Religion. While at college, she spent much time at the nearby Eastman School of Music, singing with jazz ensembles, big bands, and studio orchestras. While working toward her degree, she also completed two solo CDs for the Japanese record label, Toshiba EMI, one of which included young jazz stars Joshua Redman, Jesse Davis, Christian McBride, and Marvin Smitty" Smith. And in her senior year of college, Carolyn was the recipient of The Downbeat Magazine Award for the Best College Jazz Vocalist.
After college, Carolyn returned to New York City and shortly thereafter won third place in the Thelonious Monk International Vocal Jazz Competition. At the Kennedy Center, on the last night of the competition, we were pulled into a side room to do an interview. One of the questions asked was, 'So tell me, do you consider yourself a jazz singer?' The other finalists immediately answered, 'Yes, of course!' I had grown up around jazz musicians and singers and truly loved singing the music, but I felt like I was often copying these original artists. And that didn't seem like jazz to me," she recalls. I also loved so many other styles of music, and didn't want to lock myself into any one style, so I answered 'NO WAY. I just consider myself to be a singer.' It's taken me a long time to understand why I had that response, especially during a famous jazz competition. But now I understand my reasoning completely. To me, jazz is not a particular style, and trying to define it is a waste of time. Jazz is a deep commitment to an ever-changing path of creativity that challenges you to combine your oldest, deepest love and inspiration with your newest ones, to find a way to feel it all and express it all at the same time. Jazz also means taking chances and now I have finally started to do just that."
Carolyn is no stranger to mixing things up musically, from performing with the hip-hop group The Real Live Show, writing songs for dance remixes with the group Liquid Solution, and touring as the lead singer in the electronica/lounge project Wax Poetic. In 1998 she recorded an album of music with the Swiss Percussion Ensemble, a group of four classically trained Swiss percussionists using mostly glass instruments.
When they asked me to be a guest artist on their album, singing with glass instruments, I really didn't think it would work," says Carolyn. But I immediately loved the combination of glass and voice, and this project has been a source of so much growth and a lot of fun for almost eight years." She and several of the members of this group began writing songs together and the band splintered off to become the pop/lounge group Lyn Leon. With Carolyn as lead vocalist and co-writer, the group has done several European tours and received critical acclaim throughout Europe. Their album Glass Lounge was released in Germany in 2004, and in the late fall of 2004 the band toured Europe with Al Jarreau, who brought Carolyn on stage every night to do a duet during the encore. Improvising with Al Jarreau was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It opened me up to another level of creative awareness and expression," she says.
The bar had already been set high for Carolyn, who has worked as lead back-up vocalist with Steely Dan through eight years, three world tours, two albums, and four Grammys. I have always written songs, but I'm not a trained musician," she explains. I've learned everything by doing, and by watching my writing idols, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and my father. Observing each of them in the moment, creating their magic, has been an intoxicating thing to witness and be a part of."
With her first Sunnyside release in 2000, Steal The Moon (a collaborative project with pianist and composer Rob Bargad), Carolyn proved that she could hold her own in the world of vocal jazz. Since recording that album, I've been listening to jazz instrumentalists more than singers. I've started to think more as an arranger and composer, rather than just a singer." Her main influences as of late have been Wayne Shorter, Woody Shaw, Ahmad Jamal, and Herbie Hancock, as well as the groups of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
Since 2000 she has been performing regularly with her jazz group and started the Sunday Vocalists Series at New York City's Smoke Jazz Club. She has been a guest vocalist on several instrumentalists' albums, a featured guest with the house rhythm sections at Steamers and The Vic in California, as well as clubs in New York City and across the East Coast. The past few years have allowed her to develop her own group sound. In 2003, Carolyn was featured on the cover of Jazziz's women's issue, which spotlighted notable up-and-coming singers.
Wayne Escoffery Bio:
Since moving to New York City in 2000, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery has become one of the Jazz world's most talented rising stars and in-demand sidemen. At only 32 he has recorded four CDs as a leader and been on numerous recordings as a sideman. Wayne began his professional New York career touring and recording with The Eric Reed Septet. In 2001 he became a steady member of the Mingus Big Band/Orchestra/Dynasty, The Lonnie Plaxico Group, and Abdulah Ibrahim's Akaya. Then in 2004 Grammy award winning producer, arranger and trumpeter Don Sickler asked Wayne to be a part of Ben Riley's Monk legacy Septet (an innovative piano-less group dedicated to carrying on the legacy of jazz great Thelonious Monk). At this time Wayne was also touring with Jazz At Lincoln Center's Music of the Masters consisting of two groups of musicians hand picked by Wynton Marsalis. The Music of Dexter Gordon featured Wayne with Saxophonists Jimmy Greene and Gerry Welden; backed by Dexter Gordon alumni George Cables, Rufus Reid and Leroy Williams. The Music of Miles Davis featured Wayne with trumpet great Eddie Henderson and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson in the front line; backed by David Kikoski, Ed Howard and Miles Davis veteran Jimmy Cobb on drums. In 2006 Wayne secured one of the most coveted gigs in jazz: a frontline position in Tom Harrell's working quintet. In addition to being a part of some of the last true apprenticeship" opportunities of our era, he has delivered three studio dates as a leader on the Nagel-Heyer label Times Change in 2001, Intuition in 2004 and the most recent a collaborative project with his wife vocalist Carolyn Leonhart If Dreams Come True released September 18th 2007. In a review of the latter AllAboutJazz.com's Senior Editor John Kelman wrote Escoffery's command of the instrument is impressive, able to navigate broad intervallic leaps with a sound that is robust in all registers," Critics have also called him [A] young, self-assured, hard- swinging tenor saxophonist." (Ben Ratliff - The New York Times) a skillful, musical player" (Chris Kelsey, JazzTimes) and a thoughtful and ambitious composer" (Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., All Music Guide). In October of 2006 Wayne signed with Savant Records, founded and run by noted record industry legend Joe Fields and his highly respected son Barney. His first CD for Savant called Veneration (released in March of 2007) was recorded live at Smoke Jazz Club in NYC and features Joe Locke on vibes, Hans Glawichnig on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums. Despite his musical talent Wayne (born on February 23rd 1975 in London, England) grew up in a relatively non-musical household.
In 1983, he and his mother moved to the United States eventually settling in New Haven, Connecticut in 1986. Wayne always enjoyed singing whatever music he heard but it wasn't until his relocation to New Haven that his formal music education began. At age eleven Wayne joined The New Haven Trinity Boys Choir, an internationally known Boys Choir that toured and recorded annually. At this time he also began taking private saxophone lessons and playing the tenor saxophone in school bands. By the time he was sixteen he left the Choir and began a more intensive study of the saxophone, attending The Jazz Mobile in New York City, The Neighborhood Music School and The Educational Center for the Arts, both in New Haven. During his senior year in high School, he attended the Artist's Collective in Hartford, Ct. It was there that he met Jackie McLean, the world-renowned alto saxophonist and founder of both The Artist's Collective and the jazz program at The Hartt School. McLean gave Wayne a full scholarship to attend The Hartt School, where he graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor's degree in Jazz Performance, and became known as one of McLean's prize pupils. While at Hartt, Wayne played with such jazz greats as Curtis Fuller, Eddie Henderson, Philip Harper, Albert Heath, and many others. He went on to attend The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at The New England Conservatory in Boston. It was a full scholarship two-year college program, accepting a small select group of the world's most talented young jazz artists every two years. At the Institute, he toured with Herbie Hancock and studied with George Coleman, Jimmy Heath, Don Braden, Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Barry Harris, Charlie Persip and other Jazz masters.
In May 1999, Wayne graduated with a Masters degree from The New England Conservatory moving to NYC in 2000. Since then, he has performed with countless internationally respected musicians and has become known for his beautiful sound, impressive technique and versatility. J. Robert Bragonier of All About Jazz Magazine writes, This is a talented youngster capable of long, flowing lines, noteworthy creativity, and a broad range of expressiveness." When commenting on Jackie McLean's influence on Escoffery, he writes ..."the latter's influence is apparent in his knowledge of jazz history, lean, angular harmonies, and muscular tone." As well as performing with his newest group Veneration and a collaborative group with vocalist Carolyn Leonhart, Wayne Escoffery currently performs locally and tours internationally with Ben Riley's Monk Legacy Septet, The Tom Harrell Quintet, The Mingus Big Band/Orchestra/Dynasty, and The Carolyn Leonhart Group.
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