Traverse City Music: The daughter of veteran jazz bassist Jay Leonhart and wife of tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, she performs numerous shows with a jazz group in New York.
But she’s probably best known for her stint backing Steely Dan and the spinoff group the Dukes of September, where she also stepped to the fore as lead singer for an arrangement of the Motown classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
Leonhart also is featured with the Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata, a group that last year released The Hills Are Alive, a delightful mashup that reimagines the canon of The Sound of Music by combining its tunes with Hendrixian guitar pyrotechnics, prog rock, even the Jackson 5.
So will her show be a jazz set, pop, soul, or what?
Well, probably some of each.
“I started off with more straight-ahead jazz in New York, and non-jazz in Europe,” said Leonhart in a phone interview. “It was compartmentalized by genre, but now it’s started to come together. My solo group is turning into a fun mix of so many things.”
One thing the audience won’t hear is a diluted version of Steely Dan faves like “Aja” or “Peg.”
“For years I’ve shied away from doing any Steely Dan songs,” Leonhart said, noting that she felt there was no way she could improve on the originals.
But that doesn’t mean sharp-eared listeners won’t hear any Becker & Fagen-esque music.
“I found a song of Donald’s (“Big Noise New York,” from the box set The Nightfly Trilogy) and asked if I could rearrange it,” Leonhart said.
That tune became part of Tides of Yesterday, the second recording she did with her husband. It included originals written by Leonhart, one by her with her husband and with her brother, composer/trumpeter Michael Leonhart (also a Dan and Dukes mainstay), and several jazz standards.
That potpourri approach may mirror her set at Dennos.
“There are some originals, some stuff from Mingus, a lot of different stuff, things I’ve done in the past,” she said.
Though Leonhart had hoped Escoffery might be able to accompany her for the Traverse City date, he’s booked for a recording session. But she’s excited that pianist Helen Sung will be part of the group for her performance.
“We’ve worked together a bunch,” said Leonhart of the graduate of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, who went on to win the Kennedy Center's Mary Lou Williams Jazz Piano Competition.
“It’s going to really be a great show,” she said. “There are so many directions we can go.”
The show is part of a brief tour, including stops at the Pasant Theater at the Wharton Center at Michigan State and at West Shore Community College in Ludington.
Tickets for the 8 p.m. performance are $22 for museum members, $25 in advance, and $28 at the door, plus any fees.