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Leon Thomas (1937 - )

Bart Plantenga: "Will there be yodeling in heaven?"


Amos Leon Thomas Jr (born 1937, died May 8, 1999) was an American avant garde jazz vocalist from East St. Louis, IL. He changed his name to Leone in 1974. Thomas is best known for his work with Pharoah Sanders particularly 1969's The Creator Has a Master Plan from Sanders' Karma album. Thomas's most distinctive device was that he often broke out into yodeling in the middle of a vocal. This style has influenced singer James Moody among others.

Thomas studied music at Tennessee State University. He also worked with Grant Green, Jimmy Forrest, and Hank Crawford, Count Basie, Mary Lou Williams, Randy Weston, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Louis Armstrong, Carlos Santana, Freddie Hubbard and Oliver Nelson.

Thomas died of heart failure on May 8, 1999. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Thomas [Dec 2005]


One of my most gratifying experiences in creating and maintaining this website was meeting and becoming friends with the late Leon Thomas, who sadly died this past May of complications from Leukemia. I remember in about 1976 I first heard "The Creator Has A Masterplan." A friend of mine--a revolutionary activist, back then when it was not quite SO weird--had the gatefold LP of Pharoah's KARMA, and lent it to me since I had become interested in avant garde jazz. The shrieking saxophone was a kind of gauntlet, laid down at my feet for me to understand: that took time, time that ultimately proved well worth it. But the percussion hooked me, and above all I remember being taken away by the voice of this amazing singer who could summon other worlds with his voice.-- Ian Horst, 1999


Amos Leon(e) Thomas: "'How merit and good fortune go hand in hand fools will never see,' wrote Goethe. Goethe would be one disillusioned guy if he had been alive to witness the merit-good fortune divide regarding Leon Thomas. Here is someone whose merit did not lead to good fortune - he had a difficult life and never found the fame he deserved. Look in most authoritative jazz tomes and you will most likely find Leon Thomas as a mere footnote in someone else's profile; some don't even mention him at all.

In 1999, he died in a run-down public hospital in the Bronx. "His demeanor was jovial," according to Thomas aficionado, Ian Horst, "despite the hissing of various contraptions in the ICU where he spent far too much of his last months" - ignominious is hardly the way an artist of his caliber should have gone out for his last solo.

Thomas grew up in East St. Louis, studied music at Tennessee State University, and moved to New York in 1958. Thomas's early career can be characterized as straight blues-jazz vocals, working with Mary Lou Williams, and touring with Art Blakey. In January 1961, Thomas joined Count Basie and sang at the Inaugural Balls of both Kennedy and Johnson.

His most famous work is with Pharoah Sanders on Karma [1969] and Jewels of Thought [1970]. In 1969, on "Creator Has a Master Plan" he sang a scat-yodel with wild fluctuations between glottal and mellifluous vocables that instantly had me digging for more. This was a man in search of soul. He gave the human voice a power beyond its mere narrative and image-evoking functions.

He seemed to be patching into the incredible yodeling patterns of the Central African Pygmies, whose vocal traditions he had studied. Thomas thought they'd given him the gift of particularly elastic throat articulation, or "soularphone" as he called it, which enabled him to sing, blending jazz scat, blues styles and his interpretation of ancestral yodeling." From: Yo De Lay EEE OOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World [Routledge 2003]--Bart Plantenga

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    1. Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World (2003) - Bart Plantenga [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]

      Bart Plantenga is a widely published author, having written journalism, fiction, and non-fiction. His writings have appeared in Reggae, Rasta Revolution: Jamaican Music from Ska to Dub , and he has contributed to many musical and pop culture journals, including the American Music Research Center Journal. He lives in Amsterdam.

      Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo is the first book to address the question: How did a centuries-old, Swiss mountain tradition make its way into American country music? Along the way, the reader discovers that yodeling is not just a Swiss thing--everyone from Central African pygmies, Nashville hunks-in-hats, avant-garde tonsil-twisters like Meredith Monk, hiphop stars De La Soul, and pop stars like Jewel have been known to kick back and release a yodeling refrain. Along the way, we encounter a gallery of unique characters, ranging from the legendary, such as country singer Jimmie Rodgers, to the definitely different, including Mary Schneider ("the Australian Queen of Yodeling") who specializes in yodeling Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, and the Topp Twins, a yodeling lesbian duo who employ the sound in their songs aimed at battling homophobia. The book is both a serious study of the history of yodeling around the world and a fun look at how this unique sound has worked its way into popular culture. Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo promises to be a classic for fans of music and popular culture.

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