Jay Leonhart (born December 6, 1940, Baltimore, Maryland) is a bassist and songwriter working and singer in jazz and popular music. He has performed with diverse artists including Judy Garland, Carly Simon, Bucky Pizzarelli, Sting, and Frank Sinatra. Leonhart is noted for his clever songwriting, often laced with dry humor, and his compositions have been recorded by such notable artists as Blossom Dearie, Lee Konitz and Gary Burton. Leonhart's poetry is published both in, and outside of, the venue of song.
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Jay Leonhart grew up in a musical family. His parents and six siblings were all musically inclined. Everyone played the piano. By the age of seven, Jay and his older brother Bil were playing banjos and guitars and mandolins and basses. They played country music, jazz—anything with a beat. In their early teens, Jay and Bil were television stars in Baltimore and were touring the country performing on their banjos.
When Jay was fourteen he started playing the bass in The Pier Five Dixieland Jazz Band in Baltimore. After studying at The Peabody Institute (1946–1950), Jay attended The Berklee College of Music (1959–1961) and The Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto, before leaving school to start touring with the traveling big bands of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
At twenty one, Leonhart moved to New York City to start his career. He played lots of funky road gigs with big bands, small bands and singers and visited many little jazz joints around the world. In 1968, he met and married a singer named Donna Zier and settled down in New York. Jay and Donna Leonhart have two children, Michael and Carolyn, who have performed with Steely Dan, among others.
Upon moving to New York, Jay eventually began playing for many of the great jazz musicians, big bands, and singers who were to be found there - artists like Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, Lou Marini, Tony Bennett, Marian McPartland, and Jim Hall. Leonhart has continued to work with many of the great jazz musicians of the twentieth century.
Jay also became a very busy studio musician in New York City, visiting every musical genre from James Taylor to Ozzy Osbourne and Queen Latifah. Between 1975 and 1995 he was named The Most Valuable Bassist in the recording industry three times by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Jay Leonhart has now recorded fifteen solo albums and is also performing a one-man show called "The Bass Lesson" about his life in the music business and song. He has toured worldwide for more than forty years.
Jay now performs regularly with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon in a duo which began as a result of their recording "This Rhythm on My Mind".
- Salamander Pie with Mike Renzi (DMP, 1983)
- There's Gonna Be Trouble with Joe Beck (Sunnyside, 1984 )
- The Double Cross (Sunnyside, 1988 )
- Life Out on the Road – A Jazz Journey (Prestige Elite, 1990)
- Live at Fat Tuesday's: May 13–15, 1993 (DRG, 1993)
- Two-Lane Highways (Megabop Global/Prestige Elite, 1996)
- Great Duets (Chiaroscuro, 1999)
- Sensitive to the Touch: The Music of Harold Arlen (Groove Jams, 1999)
- Galaxies and Planets (Sons of Sound, 2001)
- Rodgers & Leonhart (Sons of Sound, 2002)
- A Visit with the Duke (Arbors, 2003)
- If I Only Had a Brain (LRC, 2004)
- Fly Me to the Moon (Tokuma, 2004)
- Cool (Sons of Sound, 2004)
With Kenny Barron
- Super Standard (Venus, 2004)
With Barbara Carroll
- Live at the Carlyle (DRG, 1991)
- This Heart of Mine (DRG, 1994)
- Everything I Love (DRG, 1995)
- Live at Birdland (Harbinger, 2004)
- I Wished on the Moon (Venus, 2007)
- Something to Live For (Harbinger, 2010)
- How Long Has This Been Going On? (Harbinger, 2011)
With Peggy Lee
With Eddie Higgins and Terry Clarke
- Speaking of Jobim (Sunnyside, 1998)
With Eddie Higgins Trio
- Bewitched (Venus, 2001)
- Don't Smoke in Bed (Venus, 2002)
- If Dreams Come True (Tokuma, 2005)
- Amor (Venus, 2006)
With Lee Konitz
- Dovetail (Sunnyside, 1983)
With Gerry Mulligan
- Walk on the Water (DRG, 1980)
With Donnie O'Brien
- Donnie O'Brien Meets Manhattan Swing: In a Basie Mood (Arbors, 2004)
With Bucky Pizzarelli
With Daryl Sherman
- Guess Who's in Town (Arbors, 2007)
With Bluesiana Triangle
- Bluesiana Triangle
- Bluesiana Triangle II
- Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know, musical comedy revue
- Scott Yanow. "Jay Leonhart, Biography" allmusic. Retrieved 2011-03-15
- WYNC-FM "No Show" program from October 1, 2005 featuring interview and nine songs from Jay Leonhart
- Official Site
- All About Jazz review of album "Cool" - March 23, 2005
- NAMM Oral History Interview May 4, 2013