Fronting the much sought after London-based jazz band The Leon Garner Trio, Leon Garner is making huge waves in the jazz circles of the world. We at Backseat Mafia thought it was about time we introduced the rest of the world to this talented singer.
Give us a potted history of yourself
I’m a jazz singer and lyricist, been making a living from it for 5 years now. I live in London, but we play all over and Internationally, quite a bit in Switzerland weirdly. Just about to release my first single along with a live BBC introducing session at the end of the month.
Who inspired you to start making music
I was really lucky to be exposed to some great music as a kid, my grandfather used to sell records and we used to go around markets and car boot sales basically anywhere where he could flog his records. My job as a kid was clean the records and he was smart enough to leave me in the front room with a record player and all these LPs. I was drawn to Jazz at an early age, I think primarily because it was a juxtaposition from my reality, an escape. I grew up in Scunthorpe, sort of not much happens there, nothing too exciting anyway. Count Bassie, Duke Ellington and singers like Mel Torme, Ella and Nat Cole just transported me to another world, especially live albums i could be in the audience in 1960’s New York. I loved the sincerity of the way they sang the lyrics and the images the could conjure with the lyrics. They were so important to me. I loved them. Still do. And because my grandad had had good taste and these artists, and artists like them had such big back catalogues he could alway find me another artist/album that I hadn’t heard yet and would inevitably fall madly in love with.
And the one or maybe two records that inspired you artistically
Count Bassie – Live in Vegas (before frank) was one of the most exciting records id everheard. It physically moved me i was dancing around the living room. Id heard these records before – but never at that tempo. They were swinging for their lives. Just fucking cool. No one can swing like Bassie.
Sarah Vaughan live at the Trivolli – just raw talent. She’s so much fun and properly fun. Rock and roll before rock and roll.
If you’re trying to explain who you sound like to someone that’s never heard you, what do you say
People tend to say Mel Torme or Sinatra. Sally Green – who owns Ronnies Scotts told me I sound like Sinatra. Great compliment I suppose. I hope I learnt how to be sincere like Sinatra. Find the meaning of the lyrics and deliver them truthfully to an audience.
Obviously i’m influenced by those guys but i think the person i’ve stolen the most from is Tony Bennett, i really study his phrasing, i love it. I think i’ve developed my own sound over the years, one that i’m super proud off, just letting go of other peoples influence and doing my own thing, its a never ending process i suppose.
I don’t know, I suppose I deliberately try not to over analyse myself, it’s too personal. I probably just say it’s Jazz have a google if you like.
Tell us about your recent single
‘It could never be me’ is the first single from the Album Songbook. Out June 26th. It’s heavily influenced by the standards – Charlie Flint and I didn’t deliberately write it like that but its the way we write. The lyrics i wrote from the perspective of the person doing the dumping. There are so many good songs written from the perspective if the person being dumped this is the other way round. Also features an awesome piano solo by my pal Rupert Cox with Mikele Montolli on Bass and Luke Tomlinson on drums. These guys are at the top of their game, they play with some of the top musos in world and their stupidly young. They bring such skill and freshness that it feels new and exciting but with a nod to the greats.
Where can we get hold of it
It’s all over the internet. Spotify, Apple music – wherever you listen to music you can get hold of it.
Tell us how you write
Charlie and I don’t really have a method. Some times he sends me a melody and it evokes a feeling and write about whatever i’m going through. Its always first person and deeply personal. It’s the only way i can get out it out. I don’t write about external things that too abstract and poetic for me. Im a recovering addict so its usually about me. Haha i was quite friendly with Carrie Fisher and she used to say to me all the time, “ME, ME, ME …. Enough about me. What do you think about me?”
Tell us about you’re live show and how much have you been missing it recently
I love playing live its my bread and butter i rarely use the same band twice in a row, i’m always changing it up and hate rehearsals, I just work with amazing musos we jump on stage call a tune and Key and see what happens. Some time we fly, occasionally it falls on its arse but that way it keeps it fresh and exciting every night. Same with the album, most of the arrangements are improvised, the guys are given the melody and i say let’s give this bash and get out of the way.
We also do quite a few corporate events and what not this time of the year , where people aren’t there to see us and they don’t really give a shit – which is humbling. We got asked to play the prime ministers summer party a few weeks back, that was weird. Singing to the back of liz truss’s head, but they paid us more for 1 set than club would pay us for a week of shows so you do it and have a laugh and eat well for a few weeks.
What can we expect from you in the near future
The album is out at the end of the month. Pretty excited to have it out I’ve been talking about it for ages, and it kind of feels like old news. I want to get on with the next one.
Tell us your favourite records that’s rocking your headphones / tour bus / stereo
Ive been obsessing over Nina Simone last few months her talents and her truth through music breaks my heart. Would really recommend her version of Alone Again, Naturally. She changes the lyrics to make it about her dad, the result is really astonishing, i started crying in the middle of Hyde Park when i first heard it. Also discovered Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb recently, their live studio album ‘sessions’ is super fun. They dissect their writing process and then play live versions of the songs. Super fun for a songwriter, and Witchita Lineman is a masterpiece.
Check out Garner’s single It Could Never Be Me, below: