One of the most unique vocalists of the jazz world, Brother Leon Thomas had an updated, yet ancient, style of scat-yodeling that was quite soulful and seemed to come from deep, not just from his inner being but also traveling folky songlines. He claimed to have discovered using that style after breaking his teeth before a concert.
Most famous for his contributions to the great late '60s run of Pharoah Sanders albums on Impulse! followed by an early '70s run with the Santana band (including the amazing 1973 tour of Japan), he also cut records of his own including some great albums on Flying Dutchman. His style was fairly normal, yet soulful, until he hit onto his extended techniques. The music blended avant-jazz, African, blues, scat, soul-jazz, black power and Latin grooves. He also played percussion on some records.
From East St. Louis, he went to college in Tennessee before moving to NYC in '58. He found early work with Randy Weston, Roland Kirk, Grant Green, Hank Crawford, and others and sang with Count Basie in the first half of the '60s. He worked with Johnny Hodges and Oliver Nelson on an album in '69.
Following his stints with Pharoah and Santana, he gigged or recorded with Archie Shepp, Ornette Coleman, David Liebman, Mary Lou Williams, Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Gary Bartz and also on Louis Armstrong's last album. He sang with Pharoah again in the '80s and was a major influence on Tim Buckley, James Moody and Bobby McFerrin, among others. After years of drug abuse, he passed away of heart failure at 61. "Shape Your Mind To Die" is a killer piece of dark jazz.