Thomas, 61, Jazz Singer Known for 'Yodel'
By BEN RATLIFF
Leon Thomas, a jazz singer known for his
bellowing glottal-stop style in free jazz of
the 1970's, died on Saturday at Lincoln Hospital in
the Bronx. He was 61 and lived in the Bronx.
The cause was heart failure as a result of leukemia, Karen Dagneau, his
tour manager, said.
Thomas, who was born in East St. Louis, Ill.,
and studied music at Tennessee State
University, moved to New York in 1958. With his stout
tenor voice, he worked as a straight blues-jazz singer, performing with
Count Basie and Mary Lou Williams in the mid-60's. But by then he had
also begun to spend time with young jazz musicians, like Randy Weston and Pharoah Sanders, who were looking to Africa, the East and
meditation for musical material.
Onstage with Sanders in the late 60's Thomas
developed his ululating singing style, which
has been compared to African pygmy and American Indian singing techniques, and which he later called "soularphone." He
believed that his ancestors had given him his elastic throat articulation, he
said, and henceforth always used it.
Pharoah Sanders tracks like "The Creator Has a Master Plan" from
1969 and "Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum Allah" from 1970 were full of
Thomas's wordless yodeling over band vamps.
This kind of spiritual African-tinged soul-jazz
has become known as "kosmigroov."
After working with Sanders and making some of
his own albums for the Flying Dutchman
label, he spent two years with the band Santana.
In the last few years he often sang at the Lenox
Lounge in Harlem.
Thomas is survived by a son, Amos, of the Bronx,
and a brother, Curtis of St. Louis.