Dan Leonard Chose Wisely With the 'Middle Path'
Local guitarist plays with Dan Leonard Trio and Deanna Bogart Band tomorrow at Workhouse
Dan Leonard was 12 when he knew he wanted to be a musician. "I was playing Stairway to Heaven at a party and everybody suddenly stopped talking and paid attention and it was pretty cool," he said with a smile in his voice. "I was invisible until I picked up my guitar."
Leonard will be playing at the Workhouse Arts Center on Saturday, October 2, for the second annual Art, Wine and All That Jazz Festival. His group, the Dan Leonard Trio, plays from 3 to 3:45. He plays again with the Deanna Bogart Band from 7 to 9.
A Northern Virginia native, Leonard attended Madison High School, then George Mason University, where he studied classical guitar and composition. He played rock gigs throughout high school and college, but says he chose to study classical guitar because of the discipline it provided. "The classical repertoire, all written, and the discipline of the classical technique were great for me," he said. He studied jazz privately, and headed in the jazz direction after school because of the improvisation opportunities it provides. "Although I grew up playing rock, I was always intrigued with improvisation," he said. "Jazz offers a broad musical palette for improvisation that includes elements of Latin, funk, bebop, gospel, rock."
It was after college that Leonard first met Deanna Bogart. "I was referred to her [Deanna] about 13 years ago or so to fill in for the guitar player in her band," he said. "We got along great and had a lot of fun," said Leonard. "Years later when that guitar player decided to move on, Deanna called again," he said.
Before joining Bogart's band five years ago, Leonard recorded his first CD. "I'd been working as a side man and I loved to write music," he said. "The time came when I realized that I had a CD's worth of music, and it just seemed like the right time to record and release a solo CD." Time Alone was released in 2000. Leonard's second CD, Middle Path, was released in 2008 and recorded as The Dan Leonard Trio. Both CD's are available on iTunes. Samples from Middle Path and Time Alone can be heard here.
When asked the hardest part about making that first CD, it wasn't the money or the music. "It was easy to write music and rehearse the guys," Leonard said. "The hardest part was figuring out what to put on the cover on the CD," he laughed. Leonard said on that point, he was out of his element.
The Dan Leonard Trio formed after Leonard's solo CD. "A few years went by and I was playing with Leland Nakamura and Steve Zerlin, just getting together and playing, and it felt good right away" he said. In the Dan Leonard Trio, Zerlin plays bass and Nakamura plays drums.
At Saturday's concert Leonard says the trio will play original tunes, and include two or three jazz standards which he calls, "congruous with our music." These may include Falling Grace by Steve Swallow, Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum by Wayne Shorter, and a rendition of All The Things You Are, from Jerome Kern's last Broadway musical, Very Warm for May.
The Trio plays about four or five concerts a year. Leonard's main gig is playing with the Deanna Bogart Band. "Deanna is a super person and a great musician," said Leonard. "We have a lot of fun playing blues, boogie-woogie, straight up jazz – I even get to rock out some," he smiled. "The group has become kind of like a family," he said.
In addition to writing music and performing, Leonard also teaches at Contemporary Music Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Most of his students are high schoolers playing guitar at the intermediate or advanced levels. In his teaching, Leonard doesn't focus on one particular style. "It boils down to learning the instrument," he said. "The more familiar you are with the instrument, the more you are able to play in any style."
Leonard credits his knowledge of the instrument with his ability to make a living playing music. "Being well-rounded has given me the opportunity to work with lots of different people," he said. "I didn't worry about it [earning a living with music] when I was young and optimistic," he said. "But there have been times in my life when I thought that maybe I had erred."
Leonard is looking forward to Saturday's Jazz festival at Workhouse. "Last year at the festival I played four times with three different groups," he said. "It was a good weekend." He says the Workhouse is a great environment for music. "The stage and the sound set-up are conducive to playing well," he said. My experience with every gig I've done there is really positive."