Jay Leonhart was born in Baltimore Maryland on December 6, 1940, where he grew up and studied classical piano at the Peabody School of Music and learned just how much he really loved jazz. Actually he couldn't sit still long enough to learn classical piano, but could sit at the piano for hours playing boogie woogie. His teacher, Catherine Watson, could clearly see that her young student was headed in distinctly non-classical directions. So she encouraged him to go ahead and play what he liked. He gave up piano and soon picked up banjo and guitar with his older brother Bill. The two quickly evolved into a formidable duo and appeared together around the country in the late 40's and early 50's and made guest appearances on the Today show in 1952. Jay first started singing in this duo with his brother. They were Baltimore's answer to Homer and Jethro. Humorous songwriting and singing became ingrained in Jay at this point. But when Jay actually experienced hearing a bass violin up close, and when he heard Ray Brown with the Oscar Peterson Trio in 1955, there was simply no turning back.
After studying at The Berklee School of Music in Boston for a short time, Jay went on the road with Buddy Morrow's band in 1960. After what seemed like a very long time (one summer of endless driving) Jay got off Buddy's band and decided to pursue a little more education and soon found out that Ray Brown would be teaching in Toronto at a school rather expansively named The Advanced School of Contemporary Music. So in September of 1961, Jay drove to Toronto, and deep into the cold Canadian winter. Baltimore suddenly seemed like the deep south.
But in spite of the cold, Jay and Ray became lifelong friends. However they never performed on the same bill until April 8, 1999, thirty eight years later, when they appeared together in a concert named "Jay Meets Ray" in New York City.
Jay has since played with most of the great jazz artists in history and has recorded with many of the pop heroes of the last 40 years. From Judy Garland to Madonna, Vaughn Monroe to Sting, Stevie Wonder to James Taylor, Liza Minelli to Carly Simon.
Jay has spent most of his time in New York since 1967, particularly while his children were growing up. He has twice been named the Most Valuable Bassist by The National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences. His kids, Michael, 25, and Carolyn, 27, are now both successful free lance musicians, who are currently performing with Steely Dan. In the 90's Jay has been touring Europe twice a year with Bucky Pizzarelli and John Bunch in the group known as New York Swing.
In 1977, Jay started writing poems and turning them into songs. He has recorded 6 CD's of his own songs and has many more in the works. His songs have been well received by critics who possess a sense of humor.
Jay alsp performed in the Off Broadway hit "Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know" for which he wrote 3 songs.