Once upon a time there was a young jazz musician playing some of the night spots around Louisville, most notably - at that time - The Fig Tree.
He was a graduate of Seneca High School, often wore a dashiki and had a long ponytail. Then he went off to New York to seek the proverbial fame and fortune. That was about eight years ago.
Last month that same musician came back to Louisville sporting closely cropped hair, a business suit and superior skills as a jazz pianist, songwriter and arranger. We don't know about fame or fortune, but it was obvious the young man had matured into a fine performer.
David Leonhardt - and his singing associate, Michelle Hendricks - played to standing-room-only crowds at Hugs and Just Jazz during a three-night stand in the old hometown. Most everybody who heard them agreed it was quite a time for jazz in Louisville.
At the time, Leonhardt and Hendricks were eagerly awaiting the release of the first of three records they're under contract for with Muse Records, an independent label catering to jazz. The record, entitled "Carryin' On," was written, arranged and produced by Leonhardt and is due out this month, beginning a summer filled with promise and exciting events for the pair.
In July, they start a six-week tour of Europe at a festival in Umbria, Italy. Then they tour Japan for six weeks before returning to America.
Although this will be Leonhardt's first visit to Japan, traveling overseas is not new to the 30 year-old son of L.E. and Martha Leonhardt of Louisville. For four years he was music director for Jon Hendricks, a renowned vocal jazz innovator and father of Michelle, and they traveled extensively.
In a brief interview between sets at Just Jazz, Leonhardt chuckled as he recalled his audition with Jon Hendricks:
"He liked the way I played," he said, pausing, and then continued, "And he liked the way I dressed." He wore a three-piece suit, in contrast to most of the others who came in jeans and other casual attire. "Jon's from the old school," Leonhardt said. "He thinks you ought to look nice."
Leonhardt, who had been in Louisville in April, to back up Lew Tabackin in a Louisville Jazz Society performance, lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and said he sees other Louisville jazz musicians, including bassist John Goldsby and drummers John Clay and Mark Plank.
Leonhardt attended Bellarmine College but said frankly, "I went to school in bars," referring to his constant playing in Louisville night spots.
Leonhardt has been working fairly steadily with Michelle Hendricks for about three years, five years overall. Her silken voice, sometimes resembling that of a young Sarah Vaughan, goes well with Leonhardt's arranging and playing talents.