Some people dream of being a pop star, some want to watch on as a club full of people move to the beats of their latest hit dance song. Others want to brush shoulders with royalty, dine with world leaders or present on the television.
Most of us won’t get our dream. Leee John however, has done it all and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
You may not know it, but you’ve heard his work. During the 80’s he graced the walls of many-an-adoring fan as the front man for pop group ‘Imagination’. He then delved into the dance music world, churning out the dance album ‘Call On Me’ under the pseudonym ‘Johnny X’ because he “wanted to have a different identity without any stigmas or anyone saying; “that’s the guy from Imagination”. That saying, a lot of the reason some of them worked with me was because of ‘Imagination’ and because they liked the sound”.
He performed for Prince Charles and Princess Diana, had dinner at the home of Nelson Mandela and made a rare ‘soul train’ appearance in which he sang to Marvin Gaye. It’s a list of achievements that most of us can only dream of. Now, Leee is returning to his roots and delving into the world of jazz. His latest album ‘Feel My Soul’ is a mix of original contemporary jazz tunes and old favourites.
Leee also had a huge garage classic hit in 2000 called ‘Your Mind Body and Soul’; something that he says connected him to his younger nephews and cousins.
After recording his last dance tune ‘You Turn Me On’ with Byron Stingily, he decided to take a break from the club music scene. It’s still being played in all the clubs, but he says, “Well, that was my swan song because I’d gone so underground I was in the Piccadilly Line. I just had to get back to living and breathing real music”. That’s music to my ears.
When asked to interview Leee, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I’d missed the musical bus ride. Personally, I missed the 80’s. The fountain of youth was raining far too hard on my little head for me to be out clubbing. I was, however, dunked headfirst into the world of jazz. My grandfather lives breaths and sleeps the jazz world. Jazz may not have been served to me on a platter, but it sure was playing in the background every time I sat down to a meal.
In hindsight, my total lack of ‘Imagination’ knowledge may have served me well. I had no pre-conceptions; just a desire for a good night of jazz. And I can say with conviction… if his latest gig at The Pizza Express Jazz Club was anything to go by, Leee John has found his niche. The smiles on his fans’ faces said it all.
His new album, ‘Feel My Soul’, was recorded in an old cinema. Rather than getting the musicians to come in and lay down the tunes, with vocals added later, they worked side by side. This worked well for Leee, “It was just like the old days – they stood on the stage and we interplayed so I knew how the songs would be.”
It obviously did the trick – the band produced the goods – though a few more improvised solos would be great next time. Let those instruments shine.
Leee’s voice shone through the venue… testament to his claim that “I tend to try to use my voice as an instrument so I feel like I’m a string or a brass…”
In a set that reflected the fresh diversity of new original tracks and old favourites such as ‘Someone to Watch Over Me”, John worked the crowd with relaxed mid song banter. The only let down of the night was the extremely slow service. While our ears feasted on the music, our stomachs ached with anticipation.
The mystery was solved when we spotted the waitresses – transfixed by the performance on stage. The enjoyment on their faces was almost worth the hunger pangs. Almost.
The food may be hiding but watch out jazz world… Leee John is a comin’.