Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog

In popular music, we don’t often consider the composer. We are usually more impressed by the individual musical skills of the lead entertainer. Occasionally, a musician becomes famous as the conductor of an ensemble (e.g. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis). Identifying all of the music with the leader rather than individual soloists typically happens in jazz, a genre that includes a plethora of musical styles merged and melded into one form that invariably consists of both musical prowess and imagination at Promethean levels.

We are usually enthralled by and marvel at the specific performer rather than the musical composition itself, so much so that we either assume that the performer wrote the piece of music or that it was an individual/collective contribution from band mates. Moreover, the approach of an individual so often overshadows the composition to the point that we enjoy a particular performance much more than the composition. The folk wisdom puts it best: it’s not what you do but rather the way that you do it.

The music of Leon Ware (February 16, 1940 – February 23, 2017) exemplifies this trend. During his long career, covers of his music by various artists have often become more famous than his own versions. Ware recorded thirteen albums between 1972 and 2019, the last of which was released posthumously. Invariably it was recordings by artists such as Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Minnie Riperton and numerous others that made the charts and became well loved songs.

In 2001 there was a major concert of Leon Ware music held at the Amsterdam venue Paradiso. Unfortunately the entire of the concert is not available as a live recording but we do have five video tracks. Leon Ware is surrounded by a bevy of musicians who bring his music to a rousing and beautiful fruition.

Houston born vocalist Carleen Anderson who left the United States for London and became the lead singer with the Young Disciples band is superb as both a soloist and in counterpoint to Leon’s vocals when she trades scat improvisations with Leon.

Spearhead’s Michael Franti may seem like an unlikely choice to round out the trio of lead vocals but Franti’s pleasing baritone contributions as a rap orator prove to be a wonderful addition. Franti brings an excellent sensibility to his philosophically insightful interpretations.

The musical bed is provided by the DOX Orchestra, which includes a wizard on turntables, scratching and mixing melodies and sounds. The electric bass and lead guitar on top of a funky drummer interact with fillagrees of saxophone improvisations that entwine in and around Ware’s attractive compositions.

How Leon hooked up with the Dox Orchestra is complicated but is essentially a result of foreign fascination with the musical abilities of a Black American composer, to whom principals in the Netherlands were attracted. In short, contacts between a journalist named Martijn Delaere, led to producer Omar Rey and band leader Bart Suer that eventually resulted in the trio becoming a catalyst for the concert. How I got the information is from Carol Ware, Leon’s widow, who had a friend who saw my write up and passed it on, and–well, you never know who is checking you out. It’s an apt truism: what you send around, is sometimes what you receive back, i.e. what goes around, comes around.

At the Paradiso concert, the inspiring musical mixture is ably abetted by the soaring Zapp! string section and augmented by an angelic trio of female backing vocalists. Quality music is a magnet that attracts talents worldwide.

Deep respect to the sensitive sound engineers who mixed the diverse elements into an intoxicating aural ambrosia that satiates even as it encourages a desire to hear more.

The tapestry of instruments and voices are collectively woven into a musical magic carpet that transports us to higher heights. The well balanced sound system enables us to hear each element as we appreciate the diverse timbres and textures of this sonic sublimity. There are no distractions. Oh, what a delight this night of music was.

Don’t miss this exquisite amalgamation of talented and inspired musicians coalescing with lead vocals by Leon Ware, Carleen Anderson and Michael Franti.

This concert outing is a magnificent, although woefully incomplete, summary of Leon Ware’s music presented in stellar fashion. To further illustrate the depth of Leon’s music, below, in the same order as above, are popular recording and concert versions of the same songs. You will probably be surprised to learn that Leon was the composer and occasional producer behind this stirring music.

Moreover, included is a brief video explanation by Leon on “Inside My Love”. In New Orleans we call a little extra by the term “lagniappe”. Enjoy–and try not to get too excited by the discovery that Leon Ware was the creative engineer who wrote and arranged the aural foundation and development of all this beautiful and exciting music.

 Quincy Jones and Leon Ware (at the piano) working on music together.






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