One of the perks of Make Music New York is the chance to discover musicians who are both legendary and local. Jazz bassist Jay Leonhart has performed with Duke Ellington, Judy Garland, and Peggy Lee --- to name just a few.
His daughter Carolyn Leonhart, is an accomplished jazz musician in her own right, having toured with Steely Dan as the lead vocalist for 11 years and is now a vocal instructor at Berklee College of Music. While both have their own separate busy schedules, they perform together regularly, including at this year’s Make Music New York.
Jay, how did you get into jazz?
Jay Leonhart: When I was very young, my brother and I started a banjo act. We played all the Dixieland jazz and I just loved that music. I started playing in other Dixieland bands and then studied at the Berkley School of Music. I moved to New York when I was 21 and have been here ever since.
Carolyn, what about you?
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Carolyn Leonhart: I grew up following my dad to gigs whenever I could. I was always singing and loved to sing. We started performing together when I was about five.
JL: Besides being petite and a beautiful singer, she would also carry all the heavy stuff, so Carolyn was very valuable!
You participated in Make Music New York together in 2012. What was it like?
CL: It was so much fun. We got to spend the day together and we drove around and just made music, literally. We did three different gigs. We’ve wanted to do it every year since but my dad’s touring schedule and my touring schedule made it tricky. We’re so glad we can participate this year.
Jay, what do you like about participating in the festival?
The idea of the festival is so wonderful. In a big city like New York where you have hundreds, maybe thousands, of musicians making music for free is just a wonderful thing. As I get older, I realize how important music is to people. Being able to provide it for free and have fun while I hang out with my daughter and listen to her sing while I play bass, that’s a great Sunday.
Jay and Carolyn Leonhart will be performing Sunday, June 21 for free at 3 p.m. at Almadira in Prospect Heights and at 6 p.m. at Settepani in Harlem.
Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence