When Tony Leone moved to New York City in 1998, his intent was to focus on straight-ahead jazz, and he started gigging with such jazz icons as Lou Donaldson and Illinois Jacquet, along with saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotunde, and trombonist Steve Davis. But he also got involved with a Gospel music scene on New York’s Lower East Side. That led to the formation of Ollabelle, a group whose music also contains a mix of blues, folk, country, and bluegrass.
“I had been wanting to get back to the type of music that first inspired me to play,” Tony explains. “Artists like Bob Dylan, The Band, The Eagles, and Crosby, Stills And Nash were important to me growing up, and I think that’s what led me to Ollabelle.
“When I first started playing with Ollabelle,” Tony continues, “I thought all I needed was a four-piece kit, sticks, and a pair of brushes. But I’ve expanded my scope of sounds, and I’m also using Hot Rods, shakers, cowbells, and blocks, and doing things like Jim Keltner does with a maraca or tambourine in one hand and a stick in the other. The groove stays the same, but these accents pop out of nowhere.”
One of Ollabelle’s singers is Amy Helm, whose father, Levon, is the legendary drummer of The Band. “Tony has the privilege of anchoring one of the best new groups in America,” Levon says. “He always plays the perfect drum part, and he’s one of the strongest singers in the group.”
Tony was thrilled to meet Levon. “I had been studying his playing with The Band for about ten years,” Tony says. “I was mesmerized by where he could place the backbeat as well as by his voice.”
Ollabelle has participated in several of Levon’s Midnight Ramble concerts, and they appear on Vol. 2 of the DVD/CD set drawn from those shows. In addition to Ollabelle’s self-titled debut CD and their latest album, Riverside Battle Songs, Tony also appears on trombonist David Gibson’s CD Maya and on guitarist Randy Johnston’s DVD Live At The Smithsonian Jazz Café.