Let’s face it: Making trombones and cellos cool ain’t easy.
“My mother raised my brother and I and she just wanted to a better way to get us more involved in school.”
So while his brother got a trumpet and a violin, Leong got the larger, bulkier instruments.
Since then, Leong has become one of the youngest faculty members of the Stanford music department (he was 16) and produced his distinctive jazz hip-hop fusion to widespread accolades. Dubbed the “hi-def Yo Yo Ma,” Leong has performed sold out shows the world over and played parts in films like The Terminal and August Rush, and even played with the Roots.
He describes his music as “full of excitement, full of joy, full of entertaining elements. It’s just groovy and a great time.” (Check out a video after the jump … or go to his website.)
We caught up with Leong on the phone to talk about what makes good music and, of course, what makes a good man:
How do you go about starting a project?
One of the greatest jazz composers in history—Duke Ellington—said that there’s two kinds of music: good music and bad music. I want it to have an impact on the audience and also have an impact on me, because I’m the one touring, playing, performing it. That’s first and foremost.
But second thing Ellington said is that he created music custom-tailored for the musicians that he was working with, so he could showcase their talents and strengths. So when I start a project, I want to think about who I would like it to involve—musically, talent wise. After I think about that, I think about the chemistry.
What kind of impact do you think this has on people? What kind of impact do you hope it has?
What’s been surprising to me—and it’s been a great, fantastic surprise—is that we get audiences that are extremely diverse. At any show, we’ll get a mother and a daughter and we’ll get the hip teenagers. We really get a wide variety of people from all walks of life. That’s really the best way for me to share music because it’s not really created for any one demographic.
As far as the impact that we hope to bring—a sense of imagination that can be shared across the stage to the audience. A lot of our music is charged with positive, uplifting messages. Like if we can do it—you can do it too. (You can do it better!) And it’s all delivered in a lighthearted fashion.
Do you consider yourself to be a good man? Why or why not?
Absolutely. I consider myself to be a good man. Still working on it though—still growing up, still maturing, still working into the shoes of a good man. I consider myself to be a great friend, dedicated and loyal. I am consistently willing to try to new things and to be open. And I guess I’m pretty versatile. I do a lot of different things, work with a lot of different people.
Oh and I like to cook. Trying to get as much in as I can in a 24 hour day.
What makes a good man, in your eyes?
Somebody who is comfortable in his body but also somebody that doesn’t necessarily need to prove that he’s a great person because he’s considered a good man by his peers and the people around him.