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Event DetailsPosing questions leads to growth. Leslie Odom, Jr. creates by inquiring of himself first. The award-winning vocalist draws closer to answers on his third full-length and first album of original material, Mr [S-Curve Records]. Accessing a lifelong passion for music and experience culled from a diverse and decorated career across the stage and screen, the singer, songwriter, author, and actor extends an invitation to inhabit these songs right beside him.
“I’ve lived in so many of my favorite albums,” he exclaims. “If Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, James Taylor’s debut, or Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black have anything common, I think it’s that they’re not based on trends. They were trying to ask and answer some challenging questions. I brought all of myself and my entire toolbox to Mr in order to paint pictures. It wasn’t just about pretty singing; we’re trying to make you feel something. We posed questions to make music that feels a little bit like tomorrow, a little bit like yesterday, and totally right now.”
In order to do so, Leslie spent nearly three years searching. In between releasing the Deluxe Edition of Simply Christmas and starring in a few Hollywood films, he wrote music throughout international sessions everywhere from London to Pittsburgh. It wasn’t until December 2018 though that Mr finally took shape during a writing camp held at Skywalker Ranch.
Almost a decade prior, Leslie shot Red Tails at the hallowed Marin County creative haven. The experience stuck with him, so he made a call to organize a retreat with a handful of collaborators. Over the course of a week at Skywalker, he architected the framework for Mr.
“I always thought it would be great to write at a place like Skywalker,” he says. “It was a longshot, but I figured I’d see if it was possible. They welcomed us with open arms. 90% of the record came from the camp. We were forced to answer some of those questions that had been floating around in our heads for years. Since we only had a week we were forced to answer them very quickly. We gathered a super diverse bunch of misfits up there. It was the right people and the right place.”
In early 2019, Leslie returned to Los Angeles in order to cut Mr alongside producers Joseph Abate and Neff-U. With the structure already in place, the songs took flight in sessions at Speakeasy Sound and Capitol Records Studios.
Reflective of this spirit and energy, he introduces the album with the single “Under Pressure.” A steady beat seethes just beneath sweeping strings and tense piano as he lyrically faces down uncertainty. His voice builds from vulnerable verses into rich falsetto punctuated by deep winded breaths.
“There’s a ton of unrest right now,” he sighs. “It’s unlike any other time I’ve been alive. It’s different. There’s a feeling—I think it has to do with climate change, political uncertainty, racial divisions, among other things—these things have been there, but maybe it’s the amount of time we spend on social media that makes it different too. When you see everything stacked up against each other on your Twitter feed, there’s barely any room to breathe or process. ‘Under Pressure’ is about the angst. But ‘Under Pressure’ is not about wallowing. It’s active.”
On the other end of the spectrum with its icy beats and arena-size melody, “Cold” gleefully nods to “early child memories of smooth pop with edge…we loved yacht rock,” he smiles.
“Go Crazy” elicits ebullient energy. A brassy horn section rattles out a jazz-y groove as he vocally vaults into a maddeningly catchy chorus. He goes on, “It feels contemporary but also throwback. A nod to Cab and the great bandleaders.”
Meanwhile, he gets introspective on “Lose It.” Bringing a diary entry to life, palpable emotion rises and falls amidst stark piano and intimate orchestration.
“In my journal, I wrote down, ‘Where did we lose it?’,” he admits. “I was thinking about those times when you find yourself sadder than normal. You’re in a relationship, but you’re not connecting the way you used to. You have to retrace your steps to find it. You’re not resigned to it being lost forever. You’re bringing up the question, because you want it back. You’re fighting for your life.”
He never stops asking either. In 2016, Leslie’s self-titled jazz debut bowed at #1 on the Soundscan Current and Traditional Jazz Charts. A year later, he returned to the top of multiple charts with the deluxe edition of Simply Christmas, which landed at #1 on the Soundscanand Billboard Jazz Charts. He ascended to international renown by originating the role of Aaron Burr in the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton in 2016 for which he received a Tony® and GRAMMY®Award, generated hundreds of millions of streams, and earned multiple gold and platinum certifications. His extensive acting career encompasses everything from Smash, Law & Order: SVU, Gotham, Grey’s Anatomy, House of Lies, and CSI: Miami to Red Tails and Murder On The Orient Express. Not to mention, he has performed on hallowed stages such as Lincoln Center, Rockefeller Center, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and many others. He published his first book, Failing Up: How To Rise Above, Do Better, and Never Stop Learning in 2018.
Ultimately, the answers on Mr are worthy of sharing for a long time to come.
“How do you repay your little ecosystem for all it’s given you?” Leslie leaves off. “How do you repay all of those teachers and artists who inspired you? There are many ways to synthesize everything and say thanks. At the end of the day, what I’m trying to do is what Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, and JAY-Z did for me. I’m trying to inspire and encourage somebody. I’m trying to make good on all that’s been given to me.”