THE BASS LESSON at The Los Angeles Friars Club
Leonhart: Humor played to a bass rhythm
By Don Heckman
Special to The LA Times
September 9 2003
Add Jay Leonhart to the small, very exclusive list of jazz humorists. The New York bassist-singer-songwriter's performance at the Friar's Club on Sunday easily positioned him in the upper echelon of a group that includes Oscar Brown Jr., Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough.
Appearing as the headliner in a "Parlor Performances" event, Leonhart
offered a one-man show, "The Bass Lesson," singing and telling his
original songs and stories with the sole accompaniment of his own bass
He immediately addressed the quandary he faced by singing "It's
Impossible to Sing and Play the Bass," countering the premise of the song
by displaying that - given sufficient talent - it was indeed possible to
simultaneously sing while operating his cumbersome instrument.
Another number, "Ban Bass Solos," decried the difficulties facing
audience members when bassists take their solos, drummers get lost, and
listeners lose their musical reference points. Continuing his lesson, he
described his instrument's origins with a humorous fragment explaining
its development by the 16th century violin maker Gasparo da Salo.
Reaching even further back, he came up with a hilarious fantasy about the
"first bass players" in a song describing the difficulties of "Life in
the Middle Ages."
Along the way, other tunes were tossed into the hopper: a description of
a plane trip in which he was assigned a seat next to Leonard Bernstein
(who "did the London Times crossword puzzle in 10 minutes - with a pen");
a sardonic view of the flight of the Hindenburg; and the need to keep
dogs away from basses ("they're made of wood, you know").
Good stuff, all of it, the product of a whimsical imagination combined
with artfully understated musical virtuosity.
Don Heckman LA Times
"What I learned at "The Bass Lesson" is that Jay Leonhart is a masterful entertainer. His show is hilarious and superbly paced, underpinned throughout with his unabashed love of jazz, and his respect for the great bassists who were his mentors. It's a sheer delight on every level."
"The Bass Lesson is very, very funny".................The Irish Times
"The Bass Lesson starts off attempting to give us a bass lesson, but once Jay Leonhart senses that the audience is not so devoted to bass viol studies, his "lesson" skillfully and humorously turns into a series of funny and touching songs and vignettes about life, with or without a bass violin in tow. It's another kind a bass lesson altogether. The songs in the show are original and totally unique to Leonhart--from his airplane trip with Leonard Bernstein and a special gig with jazz drummer Louie Bellson, to a very funny song about women's choices of apparel, and another about a slightly off center potato sculptor. All the songs are skillfully composed and Leonhart is a masterful performer. The Bass Lesson is a real lesson in life and great fun, with a charming and funny performance by a master musician.
Paul Pearce..... Time Out Baltimore