May 27, 2012

Leon Thomas was born in East St. Louis, Illinois on Oct. 4 1937, and studied music at Tennesseee State University, eventually moving to New York City in 1958.  Leon was one of the most unique and gifted of all jazz vocalists, he shocked the jazz world with his amazing capabilities when he took it by storm in the late 1960s with his collaborations with Pharoah Sanders that continues to entrance listeners today.

Early sessions included work with names like Count Basie, Randy Weston, Roland Kirk and Oliver Nelson.
Leon recorded on two of Sanders’ most renowned classics “Karma,” (1969) and “Jewels Of Thought,” (1970) and his vocals on the cuts “The Creator Has A Master Plan” and “Hum-Allah” have ensured his reputation. Just as Sonny Sharrock's startling guitar was the unique foil for Pharoah's slashing saxophone, so Leon Thomas had the virtuosity, intensity and blinding originality to keep up with Sanders. It was on these recordings that Leon revealed his unique vocal gift which might best be described as kind of scat-yodelling, offbeat and wonderful sounds which seem to well up from his inner being.

Having made his name with Pharoah, Leon was ready for a solo career and the Flying Dutchman label stepped in with a deal. The label represented total freedom and support for the artist and Thomas responded to this environment with a series of great albums.

He started with the majestic “Spirits Known And Unknown,”(1969) followed quickly by “The Leon Thomas Album.” A couple of engaging live albums followed before the release of two excellent albums, “Blues And The Soulful Truth,” (1972) and “Full Circle,” (1973) the first of these was an up blues-based LP full of vivacity and humour which included a vocal take of “Gypsy Queen” which is a testament to Thomas' invention.

These Leon Thomas albums were a heady brew of soul- jazz, free-jazz and African rhythms. Thomas' profile was very high in the free-jazz scene as witnessed by dates with high profile figures in the movement like Ornette Coleman, Roland Kirk and Archie Shepp but he was also catching the ear of some of the jazz greats including Louis Armstrong and Johnny Hodges. In one of the most curious but exhilarating combinations in jazz, Leon Thomas appeared on Louis Armstong's last album and cut a version of “The Creator Has A Master Plan” with “Pops” himself.
Thomas was asked to join the Santana band in 1971, where he remained for two years. Santana's 1973 tour was possibly the greatest in the band's history and Thomas added a massive gravitas to Santana that helped to shoot them into the Latin-soul-jazz stratosphere. Thomas had the role of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist; for instance, as well as the maracas he is credited with on the Lotus sleeve he brought a variety of whistles, flutes and even conch shells to the live Santana sound.

The pace of the tour was too much for Thomas and he left Santana at the end of the year and he entered a downward spiral of indulgence and indolence that lasted quite a few years. He toured Europe with Freddie Hubbard in 1979, a partnership that spawned the enjoyable “A Piece Of Cake,” (1980) and later in the 1980s he resumed his relationship with Pharoah Sanders and cut tracks with him on the albums “Shukuru,” (1983) and “Oh Lord, Let Me Do No Wrong.” (1987) Shukuru included what might be the best Leon Thomas composition, the exquisite “Sun Song” which is a paean to meditation but manages to transmit feelings of peace, tranquillity and uplift to the listener. “Oh Lord, Let Me Do No Wrong,” was more of a blues work out and found Thomas in great voice and contributing new tunes like “If It Wasn't For A Woman.”

The most recent Leon Thomas release came in 1993 with the release of “Precious Energy,” a live date recorded in conjunction with sax player Gary Bartz. This includes a mammoth version of the great “Sun Song.”
The story gets a bit sad after this with Leon descending further into the world of drugs and self-abuse until shaking himself out of it in 1994 and recording new material for an album which has, unfortunately, yet to be released.

Leon Thomas died of heart failure on May 8, 1999 in New York, New York. 

May 12, 2012

 Veronica "Randy" Crawford was born on February 18, 1952, in Macon, GA; one of five children.
Randy sang in church and school choirs and local night clubs as a teenager, Cincinnati, OH; performed in St. Tropez, France, 1967; began performing with George Benson, 1972; released first single, "If You Say the Word," 1972; sang at World Jazz Association tribute concert to Cannonball Adderley, Los Angeles, CA, 1975; released first album, Everything Must Change, on Warner Brothers, 1976; sang lead on "Street Life" for The Crusaders, 1979; completed tour of Europe, 1984; performed with London Symphony Orchestra, 1988; collaborated with Italian performer Zucchero at a performance in the Soviet Union, 1990; performed at Christmas concert at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II, 1991; released Every Kind of Mood on Mesa/Blue Moon Label, 1997.
Life's Work
Proving herself to be a versatile interpreter of jazz, soul, rhythm and blues, and pop, singer Randy Crawford has been an active presence on the music scene since she began performing in local night clubs as a teenager. Her recordings have run the gamut from smooth ballads such as "One Day I'll Fly Away," which became her trademark song, to covers of songs made famous by Bob Dylan ("Knockin' on Heaven's Door"), Brook Benton ("Rainy Night in Georgia"), and the artist formerly known as Prince ("Purple Rain").
Whether recording new songs or established favorites, Randy Crawford has long been known for her signature sound that makes every song seem new. "Before you know it, regardless of whatever category the tune was at its inception, it is a Randy Crawford song," noted the Atlanta Constitution in its review of her 1997 release Every Kind of Mood. The singer has also been lauded by critics for her ability to create a personal link with listeners that brings them right into the sentiment of the song. As Jeremy Helligar noted in People, "Crawford's great assets are her intimate singing style and vocal restraint -- the way she lightly tugs her vowels when she's caught up in the heat of passion and unleashes gentle tremolos when she's suffering the agony of heartache."
Despite being frequently praised for her mastery of many different musical styles, Crawford's versatility has in some ways hampered her career. As Ron Wynn remarked in The All-Music Guide to Rock, "Crawford's quivering delivery and eclectic nature has made it difficult for record companies to target and market her materials." Although she has not attracted a wide audience within the United States, she has been a popular star in Europe for nearly two decades. From 1979 to 1984, eleven of her singles reached the top 75 in Britain.
As a child in Cincinnati, Ohio, Crawford's vocal talent was developed by singing in church and social choirs. By the time she was 15, she was performing in local night clubs. In 1967, she made her international debut in St. Tropez, France during a summer vacation trip to Europe. Crawford has cited singers such as Dinah Washington and Aretha Franklin as important early career influences. As a young girl, she discovered gospel music by listening to recordings of Aretha Franklin. "I used to listen to all of those records for many, many hours," Crawford remarked in Ebony Man.
As a teenager, Crawford was lead vocalist in a group that included bassist William "Bootsy" Collins, who taught her how to play piano. A television appearance attracted the attention of a Los Angeles booking agent, who helped land her a gig as an opening act for noted jazz guitarist/singer George Benson. In 1972 she began opening for Benson at Nico's, a popular jazz/soul club in New York City. "I got discovered while I was singing with George Benson," Crawford later told Ebony Man. During her first year with Benson, she released her first single "If You Say the Word."
Crawford's career received another boost in 1975, when Warner Brothers signed her to a contract after she appeared with Benson and Quincy Jones at the World Jazz Association tribute concert for the late Cannonball Adderley. Her debut album, Everything Must Change, "displayed her ability to interpret songs in a variety of styles with a voice that was rich in inflection and capable of a wide range of expression," according to The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. Although reviews of the album were largely positive, sales were only mediocre. In 1977, Crawford appeared as a backup vocalist on Please Don't Touch, the second solo album of former Genesis member Steve Hackett. 
In 1979 Crawford recorded Raw Silk, which featured songs written by Allen Toussaint, Ashford & Simpson, and Oscar Brown. That same year she sang lead vocals on the title track of Street Life, an album by the popular jazz group The Crusaders. The song topped jazz charts in the United States for 20 weeks and made Crawford a star on the international music scene. The Crusaders co-wrote, produced, and provided instrumental support on Crawford's 1980 release Now We May Begin. The title track from this album was "a beautiful ballad that established her independent career," claimed The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Although Now We May Begin failed to climb music charts in the United States, it reached number ten in Britain. In 1981, Crawford recorded the love theme for the soundtrack of The Competition, a film starring Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving.
Crawford continued to experience tremendous success in Europe. Her song "You Might Need Somebody" rose to number 11 on the British charts. Her next album Secret Combination climbed to number two in Britain and number 71 in the United States. This album featured a mix of smooth ballads, as well as funkier music, and utilized a wide range of musical styles. Secret Combination also marked the first time that a Crawford album charted in the top 100 on the American music charts.
In 1984, Crawford launched a successful tour of Europe. She returned to the United States that same year and recorded a duet with pop star Rick Springfield entitled "Taxi Dancing." In 1986 Crawford released Abstract Emotions, which reached number 14 on the British charts. In 1988, she appeared in two sold-out concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra. She also performed at jazz festivals throughout the world with such notable jazz musicians as Al Jarreau, Jose Sample, and Ray Charles. She traveled to the Soviet Union in 1990 and performed in the Kremlin with the Italian superstar Zucchero.
During the early 1990s, Crawford experienced a slow period in her career. In 1995, she released a new album on the WEA Germany label entitled Naked and True and began another tour of Europe. The album was soon released in the United States by the Mesa/Bluemoon label. Naked and True became Crawford's third most successful album, selling 250,000 copies in the United States and over 500,000 copies worldwide. The album featured songs in a wide range of styles, including "Give Me the Night," which hit number one on the Smooth Jazz/NAC radio charts.
Crawford remains active as a performer and recording artist after some 30 years of professional singing, and her music continues to attract critical acclaim. "Crawford's unique vocal styling gives life to the fifteen tracks that emote love, heartbreak, sympathy, and passion," raved John Norment in his review of Crawford's 1997 release Every Kind of Mood. In the liner notes of Every Kind of Mood, Ahmet Ertegun offered even higher praise. "I listen to Randy Crawford and hear something so familiar," wrote Ertegun. "It's a sound that's timeless, beautiful, and honest. It's the sound of one of the most truly soulful voices of our time."
Awards and honors: Most Outstanding Performer, Tokyo Music Festival, 1980; Best Female Artist, BRIT Awards, U.K., 1982.
Selective Discography
  • Everything Must Change, Warner, 1976.
  • Now We May Begin, Warner, 1980.
  • Abstract Emotions, Warner, 1986.
  • Naked and True, Mesa/Bluemoon, 1995.
  • Every Kind of Mood, Mesa/Bluemoon, 1997.


Pianist and composer Joseph Leslie “Joe” Sample, was born February 1, 1939 in Houston, Texas. For more than four decades he has been an integral, innovative and bestselling part of jazz history. With Soul Shadows, the first all solo piano recording of Sample's illustrious career, he pays homage to the great American songwriters of the 20th century whose masterful works inspired his own development as one of the most diverse and popular jazz performers of the last half century.
A founding member of the influential jazz funk combo The Crusaders (originally the Jazz Crusaders) and a pioneer of contemporary jazz piano, Sample reaches back to the primary sources of jazz and soul music to create his personal interpretations of classics by such esteemed composers as Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, the Gershwins, Al Jolson, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and others. While exploring these rich expressions of Americana, Sample acknowledges his own key role in carrying on these powerful legacies by including distinct reworkings of two of his own classics, "Soul Shadows" (which originally appeared on The Crusaders' Midnight Triangle in 1976) and "Spellbound."Soul Shadows' multi-faceted 12 track set list includes such Great American Songbook chestnuts as Joplin's "The Entertainer," Ellington's "I Got It Bad and That' Ain't Good," Gershwin's "Embraceable You" & "I Got Rhythm," Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" & "Jitterbug Waltz," Morton's "Shreveport Stomp" and Jolson's "Avalon." But for Sample, the collection is more than simply living and re-interpreting musical history-it's a true window into the heart and roots of the man and an insight into the role of the piano player in 20th Century American music. His approach to the songs and the genre perfectly reflect Sample's belief that "if you played the piano in a stride or ragtime or a boogie-woogie manner, you wouldn't need a bass player, you didn't need a drummer. That's how I started playing in the first place. I've been a solo pianist since I was six years old playing in my mama's living room for her after-church teas."Conceptually, the defining track on Soul Shadows is the Walter Donaldson-Sam Lewis-Joe Young composition "How You Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?" which opens the set. For Sample, the album is something of a long overdue tribute to a chief personal influence slightly lesser known to the listening public-James Reese Europe, the first bona fide jazz big band leader whose jazz orchestra entered Paris in 1918 as part of the famous Fighting 369th unit. Before returning to Harlem in 1919, Europe and his orchestra spread jazz throughout England and Europe, introducing audiences to a sound and style that would change history. Sample's father fought in World War I and told his son stories about Europe and hearing the song, which was a big hit during that time.

"As a young musician I wondered, where did our music come from?" says Sample. "I've become a bit of a historian of jazz and all African American music, and recently discovered a biography of James Reese Europe. Reading that biography has given me a clearer understanding of why he has been so important not only to me, but to all of us."Learning to play piano at age five, the Houston native's formative years found him firmly rooted in many different musical traditions, including gospel, soul, bebop, blues, Latin, and classical music. One of the many jazzmen who started out playing hard bop but went electric during the fusion era, (soon after attending Texas Southern University for three years,) Sample founded the Jazz Crusaders along with trombonist Wayne Henderson, tenor saxman Wilton Felder and drummer Stix Hooper. Relocating to and launching their storied career in Los Angeles, The Crusaders patterned themselves after Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, only without a trumpet and becoming renowned for their unique tenor/trombone front line.

Sample focused on the acoustic piano during the Crusaders' early years (late 50s-early 60s), but began to place greater emphasis on electric keyboards when the band turned to jazz/funk in the early 70s and dropped the "Jazz" from its name. After garnering numerous gold and platinum albums over the course of nearly three decades, The Crusaders' last official recording was Life in the Modern World in 1987. Sample and Felder released the dual album Healing the Wounds on GRP in the early 90s, and in 2003 rejoined Hooper for a more full-scale reunion that produced the Southern styled hit jazz fusion recording Rural Renewal-billed as the first new album by The Crusaders in over 20 years-and a popular subsequent tour.While actively touring as a member of the Crusaders, Sample simultaneously launched a successful solo career. His bestselling recordings include Rainbow Seeker, Carmel, Voices in the Rain, Spellbound, Ashes to Ashes, Invitation (a return to his bebop roots), Did You Feel That?, Old Places, Old Faces and the George Duke produced Sample This. GRP also released The Joe Sample Collection and the three CD Crusaders Collection as testament to Sample's enduring legacy. The pianist's most recent recordings are 1999's The Song Lives On (featuring duets with singer Lalah Hathaway) and 2002's The Pecan Tree, a colorful tribute to his hometown of Houston, where he relocated in 1994.In addition to his own recording, Sample has toured and performed with numerous musical greats in all genres, including Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, BB King, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Randy Crawford (who sang on the 1979 Crusaders smash "Street Life"), Anita Baker, Andrae Crouch and many others.By returning to the roots of his own musical influence, Sample's Soul Shadows gives us a unique reflection and chronicle of traditional American music at its best .