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Butterflies Inspire Michael Leonhart’s New Album

The Steely Dan trumpeter talks about his jazz orchestra's debut

Michael Leonhart
Trumpeter Michael Leonhart (photo: Shervin Lame)

The compact stage at New York’s Jazz Standard comfortably accommodates half a dozen musicians at best, which posed something of a logistical hitch when the popular venue hosted the Michael Leonhart Orchestra’s two-night run in July. The MLO numbered 17 pieces, all of them essential to the reproduction of the music they’d be performing from their recent debut album The Painted Lady Suite (Sunnyside). The only solution: remove a row of tables in front of the stage and put Leonhart there, his back to the patrons, at the head of it all. There he conducted the excerpts from the album along with a handful of brilliantly arranged reworkings of music from Fela Kuti, Vince Guaraldi, and a pair of New York-centric films: The Godfather Part III and The Taking of Pelham 123.

The scene at the club was a far cry from the way Leonhart had been spending most of his nights this spring and summer, as trumpeter for Steely Dan, out on the road splitting a bill with the Doobie Brothers. Leonhart, 44, has been working with the rock giants for more than two decades, but this year’s tour was the first without the band’s co-founder Walter Becker, who passed away Sept. 3, 2017.

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