Leo Sherman | Bass

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I was born in Leningrad on November 2, 1987. My parents were born there as well and grew up there. The doctor and nurse at the hospital where I was born were Russian nationalists and antisemitic. By using unsterile medical equipment, they gave my me and my mother sepsis, nearly killing us. At that point, my parents decided it was time to escape the Soviet Union. They secretly applied for refugee status in the US at the Dutch embassy in Moscow (The Netherlands was the only country that had diplomatic relations with both the US and Russia at the time). It had to be in secret because if the Soviet government found out, you would lose your job and likely go to jail. After six months, my parents were approved to leave Russia through a visa from Israel. We left when I was 2 years old. 

The first stop was Innsbruck, Austria. It was the first time my parents could freely buy groceries and not have to wait in lines for hours for a pre-rationed amount of food. After a few weeks there, they proceeded to Rome. This was the waiting ground for many Soviet immigrants to find out whether they got a formal invitation to the US. We were there for almost a year. Toward the end, my parents were robbed of all of the little money they had. Thanks to the help of other immigrants and my dad peddling Soviet trinkets on the street, we were able to scrape by. At the end of 1989, we arrived in Baltimore, MD. 

I grew up between Baltimore City and Baltimore County. I was always in diverse and somewhat tense environments. Park Heights, in the city, was not very safe at the time. It was a mixed neighborhood consisting of Black, Latino, and Russian communities and there were serious drug and gang problems. After elementary school, I was accepted into an integrated magnet middle school called Sudbrook, right on the border of City and County. It was there that I developed one of my first passions—languages. I already spoke Russian at home but was interested in Spanish because of its prevalence. I joined the Spanish magnet program and studied it all the way through high school. I speak Spanish and Russian fluently. 

In high school, I started to take more interest in music. It was always part of my life, but my parents never allowed me to pursue it seriously. I sang in choir and played drums in the jazz band. High school was the opposite of middle school, demographically. It was largely white. It didn’t feel welcoming at all to be in the minority, to be an immigrant, to be different. I was bullied a lot for being jewish and from Russia. As painful as that was, it helped me find real friendships and brought me closer to music. My first teacher of jazz was also my closest friend, Sean Powell, who played the shit out of piano and organ. I went to his church downtown a bunch to hear him play and remember many times trying to hold on for dear life as he burned on rhythm changes, Moment’s Notice and Giant Steps. He was the one who told me, “you should play the bass. Bands will always need bass and it’s a deep instrument.” I begged my parents and they caved and got me one. 

This was all when I was 17 and right about to go to college. I went to George Washington University for international affairs but my true passion was jazz. All I did was go out to the clubs around DC to sit in and play bass at the jam sessions. HR57, Twins, Bohemian Caverns...those were some of the many spots that were happening at the time. I dropped out of GW at the end of my first year and spent a year shedding, gigging, and crashing with friends in DC so that I could be around the scene. I reapplied to schools after that year—all music schools—and went to William Paterson University, where I studied bass with Steve LaSpina and Marcus McLaurine. When I finished there, I got into the masters program at Manhattan School of Music where I studied with Jay Anderson and Jeremy McCoy. 

Since then, I’ve been lucky to play over the years with James Weidman’s trio with Francisco Mela, duo with Gene Bertoncini, and in Johnny O’Neal’s trio. I frequently play with drummer Victor Jones’s bands and in a group with pianist Michael Wolff and drummer Mike Clark, called Wolff & Clark Expedition. For the past two years, I’ve been playing and touring with Grammy-nominated drummer, Dan Pugach’s nonet. I also play in ensembles with fellow MSM’ers Paul Jones, Matt Davis, Steve Anthony Belvilus. I play on and off with Mexican fusion artists, The Villalobos Brothers. I’ve played in festivals and clubs around the world, including Alcheringa in India, the Blue Note in NYC, and Le Baiser Salé in Paris, to name a few. I live in Harlem and have been in NYC for 9 years.