'Still Doin' His Thang!'
Classically trained, Bradley Leighton's musical interests have always been diverse. As a young man, he loved big band music, particularly Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. Yet he also found himself drawn to the R&B sounds of Tower of Power, Earth Wind and Fire, and, the Brecker Brothers.
Although his first fascination was the player piano, he soon started playing the flute, becoming very involved in school bands. After considerable listening, and practicing, Bradley's interest in Jazz and blues led him to hanging out at after-hours clubs in his native Seattle, where he first surprised, and pleased, such local legends as T McGee, Terry Camon, Leri Carter, Billy Haddon, and Mel Washington.
Having mentors both assist and encourage Bradley, and a true love of performing, served as the catalysts for his decision to pursue a career in music. Immediately after high school, he seized an opportunity by enlisting and playing in the Army's 9th Infantry Division band at Ft. Lewis, Washington. When his talent quickly became obvious, he was appointed musical director of the jazz ensemble. A tour with the 8th Army band in Seoul, Korea soon followed. Bradley remained in Seoul after his discharge several years later to teach, and perform in the country's only Jazz bar.
But after realizing that the only place to really utilize his musical expertise was the land of his birth, Bradley returned to Seattle for more professional opportunities. By now, an accomplished musician and teacher, he spent the next fifteen years playing in rhythm and blues bands, Hammond organ trios, funk dance bands and straight-ahead jazz groups. He also taught privately, working with encouraging young musicians, just as his Seattle mentors had done for him.
At the same time, he focused on developing his own sound on the flute. His approach was born in his big band roots, where accomplished reedman took their saxophone experience to the flute. Inspired by such legends as Frank Wess and Sam Most, Bradley found that the alto flute was the best vehicle for his creativity.
Chatting recently with Bradley, and taking it from the top, I first wondered what he recalled from those days back when groove-heavy jazz-funk was all the rage, along with bellbottoms, platform shoes, fur coats and big hats?! "Truthfully not much. I was around ten years-old and my mother only played two kinds of music around the house: country AND western. When I was a teen (late 70's), it was the disco era and I was really into it (The Commodores, Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliment Funkadelic, Lakeside, LTD, etc.). Later, I went back and discovered the roots of jazz-funk of the late '60's early '70's."
Your new album title 'Back To The Funk' tells it like it is, but how far back would have been too far back?! "I don't think I went back far enough. One reviewer even described the album as "funk-light." He might be right..."
If there was one track on this new album that truly encapsulated Bradley Leighton at his musical and lyrical finest, which one would it be? "If I ever record a project that captures me at my "musical and lyrical finest," it means that I can stop performing and just hand everybody a CD and say, "Here it is. I'm done." Since that will never happen, you have to phrase the question in a different way. I think the Stevie tune showed a lot of what I can do both lyrically and musically: smooth melody with a great tone and a nice improvised section. It's a really good cut."
For those that will listen to your wonderful new album, please explain how you managed to include your alto flute gracefully above the horns and rhythmic R&B base without it sounding staged? "The one thing most flutists will agree on when they hear me is that I have a very powerful sound, even on the alto flute, which is supposed to be very "mellow." I can match the intensity, articulation and styling of the other horns quite naturally. It's part of what I'm trying to do in the way of showing people that the flute can be used in a wide variety of settings."
What made the three covers that you chose (Wonder, RG&B, and Bread) worthy of some new coverage from your good self? "They were all great tunes to begin with and I'd never heard the Ray, Goodman & Brown or the Bread songs covered before. "Lovelight" has been covered by a couple people, but I felt that perhaps I could do a better job...or at least a little different."
Since you debuted in 2003 with 'Groove Yard,' I'm wondering how you have changed as a musician in terms of this new album? "It's not so much that I've changed. It's that with each project I do, I try to cover a different musical style or angle. I hope I'm still developing as a player. I know I've still got a lot of work to do before I'm truly happy with my playing."
In early 2006 you became a Yamaha Performing Artist. Please tell us more about just what that means "Basically it means that I endorse their instruments in exchange for help getting money for clinics and educational programs that I do. They also give me a pretty deal on new instruments ;)"
OK, come on, if you and Kenny G. had a flute Vs. saxophone face-off, who would be able to musically last the longest, puff and spit wise?! "If Kenny wasn't allowed to circular breathe, which is very difficult to do on the flute and something I'm still trying to perfect, then I'd blow him away. I can hold my breath for 2 minutes easily and can play a single note for almost that long. But you are talking about two very different ways of producing sound - flute as opposed to sax. It takes much more air to produce sound on a flute. The only thing Kenny can do better than me is golf. He has a ridiculously low handicap compared to my 12, but I'm working on that, too!"
What '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! "It would be 'Muscrat Love' by Captain & Tenille. Don't ask me why!"
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you? "I think everyone looks great in a tux. Does that count?!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Bradley's brand new CD, just answer this easy question: In the last five years, Bradley Leighton decided to start making his own recordings, and performing with his own group. In 2001, Bradley relocated to which city and in 2003, released his first solo CD, "Groove Yard," with "Just Doing Our Thang," the follow-up that arrived this spring?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new and AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before May 15th with your answer and the subject title 'BRADLEY LEIGHTON SIGNED CDs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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