Jay Leonhart: Rodgers & Leonhart
(Sons of Sound SSPCD015)
was 1964. I was twenty-three and “The Sound
of Music” was first showing in movie theaters.
I was watching it for the sixth time. The movie
was scenic, beautiful and fun. But it was the music
that simply transported me. Julie Andrew’s
singing was pure and beautiful and good. Everybody’s
singing was just fine. But at that age I was already
a die-hard jazz musician who never knew what the
lyrics were saying. I just loved the harmonies
and the melodies, in that order. I say this with
no particular pride. I am just stating the facts,
The music spoke to me in a way that the lyrics
couldn’t. At that point in my life the words
were too realistic and intrusive. And I know many
jazz musicians who were the same way. Not by choice
either. It just was that way with us.
But as we got older and lived and learned, the
words began to invade our souls and blossom and
take on meaning. We began having revelations about
why the adults had been so crazy about Rodgers
and Hart and Rodgers and Hammerstein when we were
kids. Still, the music was always by Richard Rodgers.
His was the name that was always there.
Recently I compiled a long list of my favorite
songs so I would never be at a loss for something
to play with my trio. It was then that I realized
just how just many of my genuinely favorite songs
were written by Richard Rodgers -- how high the
Rodgers percentage was. I had actually become very
familiar with his songs over the decades, having
played them with many popular singers over the
past forty years. And when I was in my late single
digits and early teens I played banjo and guitar
in shows and dance bands around Baltimore and Richard
Rodgers songs and melodies and harmonies were everywhere.
The songs had just been written and were the hits
of the day.
But it took me a long time to comprehend that
these songs were actually composed by somebody,
this Rodgers guy, and were not just a sweet gift
that trickled out of a mountain spring somewhere.
They seemed to be part of our birthright. And now
here I am in 2002, putting out a recording of Richard
Rodgers music and singing the lyrics besides. Oh
my. There may be hope for all of us.
On this CD I am joined by three ladies who beautifully
negotiate three Richard Rodgers songs that I would
not have included on the recording otherwise. Their
efforts contribute so much to this collection.
I love their tracks. Thank you Donna, Carolyn and
Many of these Richard Rodgers songs have become
deep jazz standards. Other of his songs, like Edelweiss,
The Sound of Music, and This Nearly Was Mine, are
rarely recorded in jazz. But they got some special
consideration and treatment and have been included
here. “The Sound of Music” is never
found on a jazz album, but I kept thinking about
Julie Andrews skipping through the Alps singing “The
hills are alive....” while a saxophone section
was providing the kind of hot and interesting jazz
background that I am very partial to. My son, Michael,
understood exactly what I had in mind and carefully
arranged the horns and sent them soaring over the
peaks and through the valleys. The American Saxophone
Quartet did the inspired flying and playing.
Special note must be made of the wonderful and
burning guitar playing of Bob Sneider, who truly
lifts this CD up into the fluffy white clouds floating
above Julie Andrews, and to drummer Dave Mancini,
who gently but masterfully propels us toward the
border. And special thanks to the brilliant Ted
Rosenthal on piano, who arranged at least half
of the songs on the CD, and added his adventurous
playing to the tracks.
Ted Rosenthal is an acknowledged master of Thelonious
Monk’s music and playing style, and when
I asked him if he would arrange “You Took
Advantage of Me” as if it were a Thelonious
Monk song, he agreed. He jumped right in. I suspect
that Richard Rodgers will be calling me any moment
to discuss this concept. But he’ll just have
to be open-minded about it. I just wanted to have
a little fun with his great old standard.
At first I was concerned that the title: Rodgers
& Leonhart, might incur the wrath of classic
Rodgers and Hart fans and cause them to look askance
at my presumptuousness. And Jeff Penney, who is
the brains behind the Sons of Sound label and who
thought up the title, left it up to me.
So considering that the whole Leonhart family*
does appear here, and with a deep bow of appreciation
to the extraordinary Oscar Hammerstein and the
brilliant Larry Hart, and with great respect for
Julie Andrews: Here’s Rodgers and Leonhart.
A special note of thanks to the producer Dave
Wilkes, who called me on behalf of The Rodgers
and Hammerstein Organization and gave us the idea
for this project and encouraged its completion.
*The “Leonhart family” might easily
include several musicians here who were not actually
named Leonhart at birth.