Passion. Persistence. Perfection.
By Scott Schwebke
In just three short years, Leonid & Friends has blown the minds of legions of fans with their uncanny ability to capture the spirit, musicality and fire of American supergroup Chicago.
And what is even more stunning is that Leonid & Friends hasn’t seen Chicago perform live, yet replicates the band’s complex arrangements amazingly note for note.
"Chicago has never been in Russia and none of us have attended their concerts," said Leonid Vorobyev, a multi-instrumentalist who is the band’s leader. "We have only audio records and videos (to help us learn Chicago songs)."
Vorobyev wasn’t always a fan of horn bands, and as a teenager gravitated to the hard driving guitar-based sounds of the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Deep Purple and Grand Funk Railroad.
"In the early 1970s in the USSR, electric guitars, amplifiers and drums were rare to find so at school we were playing self-made instruments," Vorobyev explained. "We were allowed to rehearse in the same room with a horns band. Those musicians almost always were drunk and quite often tried to play with us our rock songs. It was nightmare and I hated them all!"
But that all changed when Vorobyev heard Chicago. He became an instant fan. "I loved so much the brilliant mixture of rock guitars, drums and jazz horns with bright vocal harmonies," he said.
In 2014, Vorobyev decided to indulge his love for the band by gathering a few fellow musicians in a studio to record a video of them playing his favorite Chicago tune, Brand New Love Affair.
No charts or scores of the song existed so Vorobyev transcribed the tune by ear. The result was a YouTube video that quickly went viral. Since then Leonid & Friends has recorded videos of other Chicago hits including Make Me Smile, 25 or 6 to 4, and Saturday In The Park.
The process of getting each tune just right is a painstaking labor of love. In addition to scoring and arranging, Vorobyev oversees mixing and mastering of each song. However, he credits his highly skilled bandmates for making each tune sing. "All of my musician friends are highly professional," he said.
With several successful Moscow concerts under their belt, Leonid & Friends are focused on bringing their heartfelt Chicago tribute to the U.S.
"We have enormous amount of requests from U.S. fans,” he said. “There is also a dream of many Russia musicians to perform for a real American audience. We are excited to meet our many American friends."
Scott Schwebke has been a journalist for more than 30 years and a longtime fan of Chicago dating back to its incarnation as CTA. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, Orange County Register and various publications across the U.S.
Learn more about Leonid and his Friends.
Musical director and founder of Leonid & Friends.
Leonid Vorobyev is the leader and founder of the band Leonid & Friends. He is the band’s producer, plays bass and piano, sings lead and backing vocals, transcribes all the musical sources, and he produces, mixes, and masters all audio and video productions.
Leonid graduated from East Siberian Institute of Culture as a Choir Conductor. He had been working in various bands as a bass player and a singer when in 1989 he chose studio operations as his main interest and began a career as a record-mix engineer and sound producer. He has been working as a music producer, sound engineer, composer, and musician for about 30 years. Many Russian bands and singers have passed through his hands and ears.
At the end of 2014, Leonid decided to give himself a gift to celebrate his retirement by recording a cover version of Chicago’s song Brand New Love Affair. No charts or scores of the song existed so he transcribed the musical source by ear, called upon his friends and recorded the song. What happened when the song was released surprised everyone and was the start of the new project ‘Leonid & Friends’.
A graduate of the Irkutsk College of the Arts and Institute of Contemporary Art. Vasily has won several international music competitions. He has been a member of the Russian hard rock band Monomakh, where he won praise from former Black Sabbath frontman Ronnie James Dio.
A graduate of Tiraspol Rubinstein Musical College, Sergey has collaborated with many Russian pop and rock stars as a session musician both in the studio and in the live performances. Sergey also writes songs and sound tracks for the Russian film industry.
Hailing from Kiev, Ukraine, Serge is a graduate from the Kiev Institute Of Theatrical Arts. He has been a keyboardist and vocalist in various bands and is the founder of his own recording studio Studio Crystal Sound. He has extensive experience as a studio musician and live performer.
Recognized as one of the best drummers in Russia, Igor has vast experience in live performances and session work. He has collaborated with musicians in Russia and from various foreign countries.
Vlad is a graduate of the Ufa Institute of Arts as a choir conductor. He has also served as laureate of international jazz festivals in Russia. Vlad has worked with Russian and foreign performers, including jazz musicians from the USA who performed in Russia such as Chuck Loeb, Phil Perry, Dave Koz, Eric Marienthal, and Brian Simpson.
Vladimir is a graduate from the Ulan-Ude Musical College of Tchaikovsky and Novosibirsk State Conservatory of Glinka. He has performed with various bands throughout Russia.
Alexander is a graduate of Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin, and Moscow State University of Culture and Arts. He has worked with numerous Russian performers both in the studio and on stage.
Alexey is a graduate of the Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin and Moscow Institute of Culture. He has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
Konstantin graduated from the Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin. He has won the Brussels Jazz Contest and has toured in Russia and abroad.
A talented vocalist, Ksenia can also sing in English, Chinese, Italian, Armenian, Kazakh and Bulgarian.
Andrey is a graduate of the Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin and has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
A graduate of Arkhangelsk Music College. Oleg has collaborated with many Russian pop and rock stars as a session musician both in the studio and in the live performances.
Maxim is a graduate of the Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin. He has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
Dimitry is a graduate of the Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin and has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
Special Guest Trumpet
Arturo Sandoval was born in Artemisa, a small town in the outskirts of Havana, Cuba, on November 6, 1949, just two years after Dizzy Gillespie became the first musician to bring Latin influences into American Jazz. Sandoval began studying classical trumpet at the age of twelve, but it didn’t take him long to catch the excitement of the jazz world.
He has since evolved into one of the world’s most acknowledged guardians of jazz trumpet and flugelhorn, as well as a renowned classical artist, pianist and composer. He is a 10 time Grammy Award Winner, Emmy Award Recipient, 6 Time Billboard Award Winner, the 2015 Hispanic Heritage Award Recipient, the 2016 Honorary Doctorate recipient in Fine Arts from The University of Notre Dame, and the recipient of the United States of America, Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"Born into poverty in Cuba and held back by his government, he risked everything to share his gifts with the world. In the decades since, this astonishing trumpeter, pianist and composer has inspired audiences in every corner of the world and awakened a new generation of great performers. He remains one of the best ever to play." –Barack Obama (presenting Arturo Sandoval The Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Special Guest French Horn
Arkady Shilkloper is a multi-instrumentalist and composer. He enjoyed a career in the orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre from 1978 to 1985 and was also a member of the Moscow State Philharmonic Symphony. Shilkloper spent four years with the Vienna Art Orchestra and has over 80 album and film credits to his name. He is considered one of the best jazz performers on French Horn and Alphorn in the world.
Special Guest Saxophone
Igor Butman, saxophone virtuoso, bandleader, club owner and television host is Russia's number one jazz personality. With a major in Performance and Composition from the Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts, Butman performed with noteables including Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, The Lionel Hampton Orchestra, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, Natalie Cole, Billy Cobham and Grover Washington Jr., who took Igor "under his wing." In 2009 Igor launched his own label called Butman Music and he has performed at every Olympic Games starting with Athens in 2004.
Special Guest Piano
Vladimir Osinsky is a composer, arranger, sound engineer, and keyboardist who has worked with many of Russia's top bands.
Special Guest Flugelhorn
Ilya Prokudin is a graduate of the Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin. He has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
Special Guest Percussion
Ilya Vymenits is a drummer/percussionist who has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
Special Guest Saxaphone
Daniil is a graduate of the Kurgan Musical College. He has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
Special Guest Vocals/Live
Irina Kozlova is a graduate of the Maimonid State Classical Academy. She has worked with “Radio and TV Orchestra” and with many Russian pop-stars. Irina is a singer-songwriter in the project with Igor Javad-Zade "Smotri I."
Leonid & Friends perform their favorites as a tribute to one of the greatest bands in the world . . . Chicago!