Singer and trumpeter Leron Thomas’ love for jazz has been honed from his early years in Texas as a youngster. While his ‘friends’ were taken with names from the 90’s hip-hop world who plied their trade with infinite bangers, Leron Thomas found his interest taken by names like Walter Smith III.
Taking his interest more seriously he eventually studied at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) with names like Robert Glasper. Name checking aside Leron Thomas attests here he learnt ‘a great deal more’ with ‘fierce’ peers who drove him to achieve the quality he now possesses.
But Leron Thomas is more than a jazz-specialists and for sure he would agree that while he is a ‘jazz trumpeter’ he would find it difficult to categorise his sound purely as jazz. His discography backs up such a thought-check his last bit of output Good Kung Fu (2016). That ep saw him express his electro leanings.
2018 and Leron Thomas unleashes his alter-ego Pan Amsterdam. In this space he teams up with the UK producer thatmanmonks on the single The Lotion Song. It’s a retro sounding hip-hop type track where Leron Thomas displays his idiosyncratic bars-we of course had to get some time with him to talk.
Leron, we always like to get background-your journey to music can you detail your history a bit?
Well I’m originally from Houston Texas although I’m a New Yorker, now. My musical background went something like, family and peers, church, the trumpet, jazz appreciation classical studies, then came jazz studies.
Let’s talk about your love or interest in jazz at an early age-where did that seed initially germinate and how did you eventually choose to follow the jazz path?
Once I picked up the trumpet at 12yrs old, I knew that I wanted to be a Jazz musician. I grew up in a suburban environment, and it was forbidden to even attempt to play Jazz in class. There were no Jazz programs at my zoned Jr. High or High school, so I was playing by ear and didn’t know chord changes. My friends were into Cypress Hill and Wu Tang and so my growing love for Jazz felt like a drug habit that I had to keep from my friends or something. Once I was able to peep little things like where a sample came from that a rap group was using, I became more confident around my friends regarding my preferred musical tastes, specifically regarding Jazz.
Expressing and analysing is all through frequency for me
Who were the names from the genre who inspired your path?
I remember hearing the saxophonist Walter Smith III, playing on his alto sax during a break from a region band, concert rehearsal. A couple of years after that I heard Jason Moran and Eric Harland. I quickly realized that I had a lot of holes in my understanding of Jazz. Some years later went to Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) to seriously study Jazz. Through Dr. Robert Morgan, Dennis Dotson (Trumpeter), Barry Lee Hall (Trumpet Player), and definitely Andre Hayward I started learning a great deal more. Not to mention my classmates, there. Fierce and competitive environment, it truly was- (excuse the Yoda phrasing).
Where do you position your sound in terms of the jazz you love and gravitate to-or is that too difficult a question?
That’s difficult-I honestly have no idea. I noticed in earlier interviews I’ve been quick to brand, define, or make excuses for my plight. But the older I get, I realise that I’m just growing the way I’m growing. Sure, I analyse closely the movements and directions, and how they coincide with my love for Jazz in its most traditional form, or if at all for that matter. But we are born into more music than generations before us. More styles and technology. We must make sense of this for ourselves. In that fact, I’m sure a generation after me will be able to comfortably answer that question for you, that is if I am even significant enough to that generation. But right now, I’m just doing it.
While you are renowned for Jazz your music evidently traverses many genres. Talk about those more.
I can sum that up quickly. I work in the business of frequency. Frequency has interested me all my life. Expressing and analysing is all through frequency for me and dare I say for others, as well. So, with different styles come different expressions of frequency. The various styles or genres seem to be influenced by whatever social, and cultural conditions, but it is all frequency nonetheless. Once a person has encountered a style, they may be surprised at what they can convey to an audience in that style. Especially if they are already thoroughly well studied in an improvisational genre that follows and breaks rules within divine reason. Suzuki Method your encounters and experiences with new genres and one may find a God Particle in these genres that is ever reoccurring. At least that’s what I gather from my investigations.
Is contemporary jazz with the likes of Kamasi Washington and Robert Glasper in a good place and how do you see the scene growing?
Funny, you just mentioned one of my classmates. Contemporary Jazz. That’s been a very funny title for a very long time. Some people mean no harm and do great evil in frequency. Some people intend to do evil or good in frequency and end up doing a much needed greater good. I can say that we are over-zealous in our surveillance of ourselves and over analysing ourselves through data nowadays. This is a bit perverted it is like we want one to be more right than the other. That comes with the territory of too much information and not enough knowledge, doesn’t it? So, I think us as musicians knowingly or unknowingly convey this current dilemma and social condition through our work. Time will tell where this shit goes, and who sat on what side of the fence.
Let’s talk about your glowing discography. How does/did your sound reflect the stages in your life?
The only things I usually think about are how jacked my production was and do I still have that spirit to “switch it up” when I feel it’s necessary? The stages in my life seem evident to me through the music itself. The sound literally reflects my stages damn near to a fault. Believe it or not, I am very proud of those shitty produced earlier albums. They were brutally honest and kept me real with myself every time I did a new album. I was a part of the DIY culture. It’s a very Punk thing to do. You kind of already have that muscle or learn to develop it in this business. But one thing is for certain. If you want to be doing it fresh, you will need this muscle. It’s necessary for endurance.
What new projects/collabos have you got on the horizon that you can tell us about?
I have this mutant of a rap alias that I created under the beats of Thatmanmonkz of Madison Washington called, Pan Amsterdam. I’m having a lot of fun with this. I’ve never been so wordy in my life so it’s funny to me to be fucking with words and stuff. It’s another exploration of frequency I reckon.
Featured image by Lucas Perrigot