Leo P: Behind the Beats
Each week we'll take you 'Behind the Beats' to learn more about the artists that play on our airwaves. This week: Leo P.
Leo P is hitting smooth jazz radio with a cool, funky new rendition of the classic “Cold Duck Time”. Leo is not only unique in the world of Smooth Jazz as a Bari Sax soloist, but also as a very lively performer really like no other previously in the genre. We grabbed a few moments with Leo so you can get to know this phenomenal performer.
Leo, Congratulations on signing with Shanachie and on the new single “Cold Duck Time” and your smooth jazz debut album “Comin’ Up Aces”. My first introduction to you was via a YouTube video of you performing on a moving subway car. Please, tell us how that performance came about.
I believe you are referring to “Bedford” by Too Many Zooz, a fan favorite! We used to perform down by the L train all the time when we first starting busking in 2013. During that time we would play that same spot every single day in the summer and it was the best summer job I ever had! The other horn player and I had this hilarious idea of following people onto the train while we were still playing. Then we would get off the train at the next stop, take it back, and see if we were still in time with the drummer when we got back. One time someone filmed it and it looked really cool so we decided to make a high quality video doing the same thing. Even though it was a fun exercise we realized it sounded a lot better with the drummer so we added him in and took the L from Brooklyn to Manhattan. I thought it would be really cool to start a video in one borough and end it in a different one!
And in contrast, you have also performed with a nicely appointed full-orchestra!
Playing with the Metropole Orkest at the BBC proms in London was an incredible experience! I had a great time working with the orchestra and it felt amazing to have so many great musicians backing me. I was really nervous….but not for the reasons you might think, I couldn’t decide what to wear! I remember I was actually a little late to sound check because I was still shopping for the perfect Ascot to match my hair (it was not easy to find!). I reflect very fondly on that performance because I really felt like I “made it”. There is something very “royal” about playing over a full orchestra and very fittingly the performance was at Royal Albert Hall. I hope someday I get to play with a full orchestra again, it is definitely an experience I would love to do recreate.
Tell us about your decision to release “Cold Duck Time” as the first single from the album.
Cold Duck Time has always been one of my favorite tunes because it’s simple and catchy. I find that jazz tends to get a little overcomplicated but there ain’t nothin wrong with playing an “easy” bluesy melody. I have a lot of young fans so I wanted release a song that anyone can play. Eddie Harris is a huge inspiration of mine so this is also a way to pay homage to him. I also love this particular version because Benny Bloom on trumpet and Richard Elliot on Tenor sound so great on it!
And what more can we expect from the full album?
You can expect to hear a wide variety of genres featuring bari sax. The instrumentation is keys, guitar, drums, percussion, sax, and a few more horn players on some of the tunes. On this album I really get to show sides of my playing that not many people have heard. I’m known for high powered aggressive sax which you most certainly get in this album but you also get a lighter side of my playing as well. I’m excited for people to hear me play melodically and see my range as a musician. Expect jazz, blues, rock, funk, and salsa. I also have a star studded cast of musicians from the jazz and funk world on this album that give it an extra edge.
Going back to your live performance. I have never seen anyone like you in the smooth jazz world. You did recruit Grace Kelly in a couple of your videos. Tell us about that connection and also – how much time did you spend choreographing those moves?
Grace and I met about 5 years ago and we have been great friends ever since. We also discovered we both love to play the sax and move around. We were both fans of each other through social media and we decided to meet up one day and work on some moves/tunes. It’s hard to sax exactly how long it took to make the choreography because we have sort of created our own sax/dance language. Some of the choreography that is super in sync we worked out in a practice room for a few hours but some of it is free styling. We basically create an interpretive dance through our improvisations and a lot of it is created on the spot. Looking forward to more 2saxy collabs in the future!
In watching your live videos it is clear that you can dance and move in such an entertaining way, but it is also clear that you are a player! Tell us about your training and musical background.
I first started playing the clarinet at about 10 years old because my dad is a musician. My dad is an accordion player and we used to play Italian polkas together growing up. Once I heard John Coltrane I knew I had to play sax and then through fate I found the Baritone and never looked back. In high school I studied jazz and classical and then I continued on to study jazz at the Manhattan School of Music. During this time I played on Carnival cruise lines in the summer and that’s when I first started dancing. I saw that people really connected to it so I kept working on it. After I graduated, I played in the subway almost everyday for about 3 years and during that time I got incredible experience playing for the people of New York City. I always looked up to artists like Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and Bruno Mars, artists that dance. I knew I always wanted to entertain the crowd in that way and even though it wasn’t easy, through dedication, I figured it out!
Who were your major musical influences?
My favorite Bari player of all time Is Ronnie Cuber, who unfortunately just passed away. Other Bari inspirations include Pepper Adams, Leo Parker, and Gerry Mulligan. I also am inspired by smooth jazz and rock sax players like David Sanborn, Clarence Clemons, Marc Russo and Gerald Albright. Michael Brecker is also a huge inspiration of mine and I believe he might be the greatest sax player of all time! Eric Dolphy, Miles Davis, Sun Ra, Oliver Nelson, Count Basie and Duke Ellington also inspired me but its hard to mention them all! In the pop world I was inspired by Prince, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars. I also find that some of my punctuality comes from hip hop. My biggest inspirations in that genre are Eminem, Busta Rhymes, and Mystikal. Also I can’t leave out great funk artists like George Clinton, James Brown, fishbone, and tower of power.
Did you think you would release a ‘smooth jazz’ album? Or do you have goals in other music genres?
I never thought I would release a smooth Jazz album but it always spoke to me. Many of the songs on this album are smooth jazz hybrids that combine with funk, salsa, and even New Orleans second line. I think smooth jazz has a great fan base that really appreciates live music so I’m happy to be a part of it. I think the one thing that smooth jazz lacks is a large young fan base and id like to change that. I hope/dream that someday I’m known as the “Elvis” of smooth jazz because of my dance moves and dashing good looks!
What are your goals looking ahead?
I want to be able to play anywhere in the world under my own name and I want to collaborate with my all of my favorite artists. I also want to continue getting better at sax and be known as one of the greatest to ever live. There’s not much more than that when It comes to my goals!
Leo, thanks so much for taking some time for us. We need you in smooth jazz and I cannot wait to see you live sometime!
Thank you for interviewing me, I’m really looking forward to this album coming out!
Keep an eye out for the new album coming November 4th, and find Leo P on social media @leopfollowme.