Leslie’s fascination with music began as a toddler when his mother discovered that he would pick out melodies on a neighbor’s piano. He inherited his musical talents from both sides of his family. His father, Charles, played bass for Lena Horne, Louis Jordan and Benny Carter. His brother, Bernard, has been active in the New York jingle business for many years. His nephew, Charley is a very busy drummer, songwriter and producer. A niece, Bernardette keeps busy in New York as a vocalist and actress. His mother’s brother, Minor Robinson performed regularly as a drummer and vocalist in Los Angeles.
Although Leslie’s father died when he was three years old, he continued to be encouraged to pursue music by his mother who worked as Pearl Bailey's hairdresser during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Leslie began formal musical training at around 5 years of age by studying piano, clarinet and bongo drums. At age 11, jazz great, Benny Carter, a family friend gave him a trumpet. He decided at age 15 that he wanted to be a professional musician when he joined a local youth band. Through his association with the youth band he was taught arranging, composing and music preparation skills. Upon graduating from Los Angeles High School, he attended L. A. Valley College and later transferred to California State University at Los Angeles where he earned a B. A. in Music Education in 1971. During his college years, Leslie began his professional music career by playing and writing for local R & B bands. He became a founding member of Earth, Wind & Fire, and eventually 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 has played big-band jazz with the Cab Calloway, Gerald Wilson, and Louis Bellson orchestras.
Late in 1971 he formed a big band with Melba Liston that led to his meeting R&B legend Marvin Gaye. Leslie worked with Marvin Gaye as his musical director and conductor from 1974-1976. In 1977, the ‘Leslie Drayton Orchestra’ was formed and received critical and popular acclaim. The orchestra evolved into a smaller group known as ‘Leslie Drayton and Fun’ around 1984. This band features music that is much more contemporary than traditional jazz music, but incorporates musical elements that have been explored throughout the entire history of jazz.
Leslie relocated to Denver, Colorado in 1989 and remained there until 1996. During his years in Colorado, he continued his freelance activities and also earned a M. A. in Composition from the University of Denver in 1991. While in Denver he began Water Sign Music Productions, a company that publishes many of his compositions. It was also in Denver that he met his lovely wife, Kathy.
Leslie continues his freelance performing and composing activities in the Los Angeles area and has mentored young musicians through programs sponsored by the L. A. Jazz Society and Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. He is a current member of the Board of Directors for the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, and performs at the venue regularly with his band, ‘Leslie Drayton and Fun’. In 2004, he began teaching a popular course at Santa Monica College entitled, ‘Jazz in American Culture’. A recent addition to Leslie’s many activities now includes developing a jazz program at Ventura College where he currently teaches jazz harmony and theory along with directing the jazz ensemble. Leslie has released 11 recordings as leader.
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I'm still a hermit. Spent 10 years in Europe. Setting up an Asian tour now. I only recently let people know I was in LA. HOW ARE YOU? You must have great things happening. We must find a way to chat privately.
I go wayy back with your music, introducing Leslie Drayton & Fun to then Urban Contemporary radio at V-103/Atlanta and then to formation of "The Quiet Storm" format. You were truly one of the pioneers of contemporary jazz and R&B. Continue to keep it real & Smooth
Hello, Mr. Drayton! I just stopped by to let you know that God has sent me my ANGEL! I am getting married on July 25, 2009. I am also graduating from WLA in June of 09. So, I have a couple of milestones coming my way. Once again, I want to say thank you for introducing me to a new genre of music and a new life. I pray all is well with you and your family.
Litia Bell (Former West LA Student)
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