We had the good fortune of connecting with Leonard Hayes and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leonard, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I was born and raised in the North Texas. I grew up in an area labeled as the “Sunny South Side” of Dallas; a neighborhood marked by homelessness, poverty, drug smuggling, and crime. The first half of my childhood shaped by great-grandmother’s guardianship. For example, we were expected to arrive home before sundown and be reachable at home, church, or School. While this disciplined parenting, appeared to be unloving, my great-grandmother instilled values of respect, love, faith, and honesty into me. As a result, my work ethic, tenacity, faith in God and faith in my musical talent is attributed to the maternal support of my great-grandmother. Furthermore, my first piano teacher and now mentor, John Tatum, took me under his “wings” and introduced me to a culture of music making and social life that I hadn’t been exposed to. This exposure initiated my curiosity for classical music and it’s culture; an interest for a social life beyond my poor neighborhood; and a desire to live an adult life full of musical adventure. Mr. Tatum’s multi-faceted career as a minister of music, free-lance pianist, teacher and conductor made an indelible impact on my musical beginnings. Currently, I engage in professional freelance projects as a solo and collaborative pianist in the Los Angeles area. Also, I serve as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in class piano in the doctoral program at the University of Southern California. I credit John Tatum, for planting seeds of professional desires and personal interests into my musical personality, by way of his remarkable career.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m a classically trained pianist; however, I’m equally at home in playing Traditional and some contemporary gospel and contemporary music such as Broadway Musical Standards and Jazz Standards. Through my professional training at Interlochen Arts Academy, an Arts Board High School, Lawrence University, Eastman School of Music and now University of Southern California Thornton School of Music – I’ve been fortunate to encounter some of the country’s most talented scholars and artist-entrepreneurs who have shaped my musical personality and personal career standards. Getting there wasn’t easy. During my childhood, I didn’t have the resources to afford private lessons and had to provide financial support to my family as soon as I was able to obtain a church gig. However, thanks to the unending support of my piano mentors John Tatum and Eva Flowers and the Dallas Musicians Metroplex Association; I was able to raise funds to support private piano lessons and secure a spot to attend the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy during my senior year of high school. After that year, I decided to be a professional pianist. At Lawrence University and Eastman School of Music, I shared the common bond with most peers in terms of “going broke’ while in college; however, the financial and personal investment resulted into life-long partnerships that have extended into work related opportunities. Also, through discipline and constant self promotion through traditional and technology means of communication I was able to overcome the challenges of low income and temporary financial droughts. Because self promotion and networking afforded professional engagements, hence additional income.
After Eastman, I accepted a full-time teaching and administrative position at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. This four year position definitely boosted my artistic and pedagogical confidence and prepared me for my current position as Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Keyboard Studies Department at the University of Southern California.
The lessons I’ve learned along the way are: 1) As you climb the latter of success, be kind to people. 2). Remain humble and you’ll go far in life. 3). People will challenge what you believe, don’t forget that.
What I’d like people to know about me is that: I am a man of faith and I believe that you can achieve your goals with three things 1) a strategic plan; 2). discipline; and 3). a lot of faith in the higher power… It didn’t matter that I grew up in an unsafe neighborhood, but what mattered was that I dreamed beyond my environment. Now that I’ve made successful strides in my career, I give back to the next generation of scholar artists who are looking for a mentor to guide them into the next phase of their musical journey.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My favorite spots to take my best friend would be: Manhattan Beach for it’s convenient board walk, ocean views, and modest shopping and restaurant district.
Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I’ve perfomed at the pavilion and love the architecture as well as the chandelier that sits in the main theater. The Walt Disney Concert Hall has the best acoustics for live orchestral performance in the L.A. area! I regularly attend concerts there during the weekday.
Intercontinental Hotel Rooftop Bar and Restaurant has amazing seasonal cocktails with amazing views of downtown and Hollywood. If you go at night and it’s chilly, the server will provide you with a blanket to keep you warm!
Jeni’s Ice Cream provides amazing ice cream year round and their pumpkin and dark chocolate flavors are my favorites to try!
The Abbey Food and Restaurant Bar. Their food, drinks and friendly service is the best in WeHo and the intriguing decor keeps me returning for more dining experiences.
Also, the most fun thing to check out is the Griffith Observatory as it provides you a gorgeous view of downtown and West LA and an opportunity to engage in a mini hike, unless you’re ready to attempt the Runyon Canyon (which is still pending on my itinerary!)
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would like to thank my mentors John Tatum, Eva Flowers, Douglas Humpherys and Catherine Kautsky. John and Eva were my first piano teachers who co-taught and provided me with the necessary foundations I needed to build technique, reading skills, and piano repertoire. Also, John and Eva have remained close mentors and offer paternal and maternal advice to help me navigate personal and career decisions. Catherine, my former college piano professor from Lawrence University. Cathy has a robust career as a piano professor, author, collaborative and solo pianist, lecturer and solo recording artist. Her natural curiosity about piano, classical composers and the intersection between the social and political context within classical music; made a profound effect on my musical personality. And Douglas Humpherys, my graduate piano professor from the Eastman School of Music. Doug’s pianism, warm personality, and insightful listening approach influenced the way I engage my ears and hands at the piano; and my approach to mentoring my students.