Funk, rock, and jazz have been equally adapted to the sweet jazz sounds of Leslie Drayton's trumpet. A founding member of Earth, Wind & Fire, Drayton went on to be involved with a variety of projects during the 1970s. In addition to playing in the orchestra pit of the Hollywood production of the counterculture musical Hair, he arranged and conducted sessions for Nancy Wilson and New Birth and served as music director/conductor for Marvin Gaye and Sylvester. He played big-band jazz with the Cab Calloway, Gerald Wilson, and Louis Bellson orchestras.
Drayton inherited his musical talents from his father, Charles, who played bass for Lena Horne and Louis Jordan. Three years old when his father died, he continued to be encouraged to pursue music by his mother, who worked as Pearl Bailey's hairdresser. Studying piano from the age of five, he switched to the trumpet following his 11th birthday, receiving his first horn from Benny Carter, a friend of his late father, who had promised to give him an instrument when he came of age.
Releasing his debut solo album, Our Music Is Your Music, on his own Esoteric label in 1980, Drayton continued to make his presence felt as leader of his own group and co-leader of a big band that he shared with Melba Liston. In the mid-'80s, he expanded his orchestra with the addition of vocalist Barbara Morrison. He released What It Is, Is What It Is, in 1987 on Germany's Ausverkau label. When his album Midnight Rendezvous was rejected by Island in 1988, Drayton became so disillusioned that he moved to Colorado. Purchasing synthesizers and computers before leaving Los Angeles, he conceived the hiatus as an opportunity to further his musical skills. He released Unfinished Business on Ausverkau in 1990.
However, the move marked the beginning of a difficult period for Drayton. Although he earned a Masters degree in musical composition from the University of Denver, he faced a personal crisis when he was diagnosed with cancer a few months after his arrival in Colorado. Surgery in 1994 to remove the cancerous growth was successful. He continued to record for the New Perspectives Jazz Ltd. label, issuing Until Further Notice in 1994, and Jazz House Party in 1995. His problems continued, however; his mother had a heart attack six months after his return to Los Angeles, and died before his eyes. The experience inspired several tunes on his album Urbanesque in 1998, his third offering for New Perspectives. ~ Craig Harris, Rovi