Dana Leong

Interview: Dana Leong’s Blurred Boundaries

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue: You know the old wedding tradition where the bride incorporates a symbol from each of these categories to provide her with a link to the past, the optimism of the future, a reminder of where she came from and an emblem of purity.

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[All photos by Mat Szwajkos]


Well, nobody’s getting married today, but this seems fitting for Dana Leong, the cellist, trombonist, composer and centerpiece of MILK & JADE, who is rapidly evolving into one of today’s groundbreaking musicians. Leong truly pushes boundaries and does something, dare we say it, new. Steeped in a classical and jazz background, Long takes his past musical training, his influences in hip hop from his California youth, deft compositional skills, and clever wordplay and weaves it all into authentic and complex hip-hop/funk/jazz/classical/improvisational music. Fans of jazz, classical, hip hop, and world music are paying attention, as Dana Leong doesn’t cater to any particular style, other than his own instincts; it’s music in its purest form.

Fresh off the release of his latest knockout album, MILK & JADE, we caught up with Dana when he took some time to chat with us via email from backstage at FELA! on Broadway where he has been filling in for the musical director of the show.

Ryan Dembinsky: Let’s start at the very beginning. I always like to hear about musicians’ childhoods. What were you like as a kid?

Dana Leong: As a kid, I was a wild misfit, a ball of energy, volatile when prompted with sugar, but constantly eager to learn. I took apart pretty much every electronic piece of gear I could get my hands on. Eventually, my elder brother and I called it what it is, “clobbering”.

RD: For whatever reason, it seems most bowed string musicians tend to focus on one format, be it classical, bluegrass, jazz, etc, so that’s really cool that you make the effort to bridge so many gaps. How did you develop a taste for such a diverse palette of tastes across genres?

DL: I always tell up-and-comers to “follow artists who inspire them, listen to the music they feel wholeheartedly and to create music they love.” I often remind myself to “taste my own medicine.” I am a fan of melody, strong beat and lyrics with a message, in other words “it’s gotta sound and feel GREAT!!” Another important factor is that you should surround yourself with musicians whom with you enjoy making music. By doing exactly this, I have been able to play and be enriched by so many styles of great music (funk, hip hop, rock, latin, jazz, classical).

READ ON for more of Ryan’s chat with Dana Leong…

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