I played with both of them last night at the Palm Court, along with pianist Lars Edegran, bassist Gerry Adams (84 years old), and drummer Karl Budo. It was an exceptional night.The house was packed—mostly with French and Turkish tour groups—and we got them standing and dancing in the aisles. But what was most remarkable to me was how well Leon and Ronell, who can play a variety of modern styles, blended in with the more traditional sound of the band.
Both young men, still in their early 30s, play with an infectious drive and enthusiasm that excite audiences (and their fellow musicians). Leon is quiter, more taciturn, somewhat reminiscent of Miles Davis in his manner. Ronell is exuberant, laughing and grinning when he doesn't have the horn up against his chops, and playing with growly humor when he does. Both are excellent singers. And both can steam up the room with their hot horns—or cool it down on hymns and ballads, as Leon did last night on "Body and Soul" and Ronell on "Closer Walk with Thee." Another point in common: they both have phenomenal ears that allow them to instantly absorb the chords and melodies of tunes they've never heard before. I called some tune last night that Leon didn't know. "Play the first chorus," he said. "I want to learn it." He did. Ronell does the same.
While I've only played with Leon a couple of times, Ronell is a pretty regular bandsmate these days. He does a bunch of crowd-pleasing specialty numbers, probably the most popular of which is "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Walt Disney's "Pinochio." I usually introduce it by telling the audience this next tune is traditionally sung by a cricket, hence the nickname I have coined for Ronell.
So, yes, there is a future for traditional jazz in this town. It won't sound exactly like the old stuff, but it will swing, and move audiences, and celebrate the unique spirit of this town and its musical heritage. Welcome to the family, Leon and Ronell.