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Amos Leon Thomas, Jr. (October 4, 1937 – May 8, 1999) was an American avant-garde jazz singer from East St. Louis, Illinois.



Thomas studied music at Tennessee State University. In the 1960s he was a vocalist for Count Basie, among others.

In 1969, he released his first solo album for Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman label. Thomas is best known for his work with Pharoah Sanders, particularly the 1969 song "The Creator Has a Master Plan" from Sanders' Karma album. Thomas's most distinctive device was that he often broke out into yodeling in the middle of a vocal. This style has influenced singers James Moody, Tim Buckley and Bobby McFerrin, among others. He said in an interview that he developed this style after he fell and broke his teeth before an important show. Some of the vocal style is classified as 'jive singing'. (Ref: Leon Thomas Blues Band album).

Thomas toured and recorded as a member of the band Santana in 1973.[1] He changed his name to Leone in 1974 because of an interest he had in numerology at the time. He did not legally change his name and he reverted to Leon shortly thereafter.

Thomas died of heart failure on May 8, 1999. He was largely forgotten until a resurgence of interest in soul jazz. Several of his tracks have been sampled in hip-hop and downtempo records.


Thomas has been called the "John Coltrane of jazz vocalists". According to music essayist and yodel expert Bart Plantenga, he combined scat singing, vocalese techniques from African tradition, and a unique approach to yodeling, "performing ritualistic vocals infused by spiritual quests, soul music, and Pygmy yodeling techniques."[2] Thomas's extension of the anthropological "verbal energy"—"whenever his Pygmy-yodel-scat erupted from the opening at the top of his larynx"—returns the listener back to "Pygmy yodeling not only via ethnomusicological investigation but via ur-soul, or back-to-Africa spiritual pilgrimage", Plantenga said.[3]

Robert Christgau wrote of the significance behind Thomas's vocal abilities in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981):

"He has literally expanded the musical possibilities of the human voice. He is as powerful a jazz/blues singer as Joe Williams or Joe Turner, both of whom he occasionally resembles, as inventive a scatter as Ella Fitzgerald. But that's just the beginning, for despite the generation lag, Thomas beats Turner and Williams in their mode even while singing his own, and he turns scatting from a virtuoso trick into an atavistic call from the unconscious."[4]

AllMusic critic Thom Jurek, impressed especially by The Leon Thomas Album, was mystified by "why this guy wasn't huge".[5]


As leaderEdit

As sidemanEdit

With Count Basie and His Orchestra

With Louis Hayes Group

With Johnny Hodges

With Dave Liebman

With Pharoah Sanders

With Santana

With Archie Shepp

With Cedar Walton


  1. ^ Jazzsupreme Archived 2007-08-08 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Plantenga 2013, p. 249.
  3. ^ Plantenga 2013, pp. 241–2.
  4. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: T". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 16, 2019 – via
  5. ^ Jurek, Thom (n.d.). "Leon Thomas Album - Leon Thomas". AllMusic. Retrieved March 16, 2019.


External linksEdit