Thijs van Leer
|Born||31 March 1948|
Thijs van Leer (pronounced: /tɛis vɑn leːr/; born 31 March 1948) is a Dutch musician, singer, songwriter, composer and producer, best known as the founding member of the rock band Focus as its primary vocalist, keyboardist, and flautist. Born and raised in Amsterdam among a musical family, van Leer took up the piano and flute as a child and pursued them at university and music academies.
From 1967 to 1969, van Leer performed in a theatre cabaret act headed by Ramses Shaffy as his backing vocalist and musician, recorded singles as a solo artist, and produced, arranged, and conducted music for Bojoura. He formed Trio Thijs van Leer, a three-piece rock band which evolved into Focus in late 1969 following the addition of guitarist Jan Akkerman. Focus achieved international success following the release of Moving Waves (1971) and its lead single, "Hocus Pocus", which features van Leer's yodelling and whistling. After several albums with various line-ups, van Leer disbanded Focus in 1978; he reformed the band in 2002.
Van Leer achieved success as a solo artist in the Netherlands. His first two solo albums featuring classical flute, Introspection (1972) and Introspection 2 (1975), sold an estimated 1.2 million copies. He has collaborated with various artists, and continues to release albums and perform in various capacities. In 2008, van Leer was made a Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau for special services to music.
Van Leer was born on 31 March 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.His father Ed, a Jewish refugee from the Netherlands, was a classically trained flautist and businessman; his mother Mary was a singer and involved in the Sufi Movement. Van Leer began playing the piano at age three, taught by his mother, and later received lessons from famed pianists Maria Stroo (later Marja Bon) and Gerard Hengeveld. When he was six, van Leer wrote his first composition "Uncle Willy", a tribute to family friend and keyboard teacher Willy Buard who helped pay for his father's flute studies at the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève in Geneva. At eleven, van Leer was given a flute by his father who began teaching his son two years later after he discovered van Leer wished to instead pursue jazz music after he discovered the genre particularly through Miles Davis albums. He said, "I suppose I wanted to reject what I was brought up on. But then I thought the combination of jazz and classical music could be used in rock." With his parents and two brothers, eldest Frank and youngest Maarten, who played the bassoon and piano and flute, respectively, the family would often play music at home together. Van Leer also took up painting, modelling, and performing in plays.
Van Leer attended Hilversum Grammar School where he learned English, French, German, Latin and Ancient Greek. His father was the conductor of the school orchestra, for which van Leer played the harpsichord.He joined the Raoul Angenot Quintet, and at eighteen, won an award at inter-school contests for playing Andante in C Major by Mozart on flute, singing an original love poem to "Stella by Starlight" by Davis, a drama improvisation featuring his own poetry, and an original piano composition titled "Nooit Zal Ik Vergeten (De Nachten Samen met Jou)" ("Never Shall I Forget (The Nights Together with You)". He then joined the Bob de Lat Quartet, who once came fifth in the annual Hilversum jazz contest. After graduating, van Leer did not feel confident enough to attend a music school, so he studied art history at Amsterdam University which he found "very dry". He then learned harmony and counterpoint at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, but disliked the lessons and left early. This was followed by a degree in the flute and composition at the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève. Van Leer also received tutoring on the piano, orchestration and arrangement with composer and conductor Rogier van Otterloo, and organ with Anthon van der Horst. During his time studying, van Leer participated in plays including those by William Shakespeare and John Webster. Van Leer has cited Steve Winwood, Traffic, Brian Wilson, and The Beach Boys as musical influences who helped inspired him to pursue rock music, with Béla Bartók and Johann Sebastian Bach among his favourite composers.
Around 1967, van Leer recorded "Nooit Zal Ik Vergeten" which Phonogram Records released as a 7-inch single which received little attention.In December 1967, during his first year at Amsterdam University, van Leer, unhappy with the course, landed a leading role in the Webster play The Duchess of Malfi . At one rehearsal, he learned from radio and television presenter Willem Duys that singer and actor Ramses Shaffy was in the process of hiring a final member to his four-piece backing band and vocal group for his upcoming theatre act, Shaffy Chantant. Van Leer had seen Shaffy's performances before and enjoyed the singing and jazz-oriented songs. After he called Shaffy and insisted he was suitable for the part, van Leer got an audition within the hour and secretly took his mother's car to get there. Had the audition failed, van Leer later said he would have pursued an acting career. With a performance of "Nooit Zal Ik Vergeten" at the piano, Shaffy was impressed and added van Leer to the cast which included singer Liesbeth List and pianist Louis van Dijk. Shaffy Chantant ran for almost one year from February 1968 for six nights a week, and van Leer was paid 114 guilders a week. A recording of the act was released in 1968 by Philips Records; van Leer learned from Shaffy years later that the track "Jij Bent Nu Daarbinnen" ("You Are Now Within") was about him.
In 1968, during his time with Shaffy, van Leer recorded his second solo single on Philips, "Zolang de Wereld Nog Draait" ("As Long As the World Still Turns"), a Dutch-language version of "Les Bicyclettes de Belsize" by Engelbert Humperdinck. This landed him an invitation from drummer Hans Cleuver in September 1968 to play the flute with bassist Martijn Dresden and himself on Jazz and Poetry, a program on the Catholic radio station KRO. For several months they performed on the station with van Leer on the piano, organ, and the addition of "strange" vocals.Van Leer stayed with Shaffy for his next play Shaffy Verkeerd, which opened in January 1969 and featured singer Anneke Grönloh and performances of "MacArthur Park" by Jimmy Webb and "I Shall Be Released" by Bob Dylan, two songs that influenced van Leer as it "Opened my eyes to the use of lyrics. Before that I only really concentrated on instrumental music". Van Leer's final show with Shaffy was Sunset Sunkiss, which received an album release in 1969 on the Philips label with Cleuver and Dresden in the band. This was followed by several performances from the group at some large venues, including shows at the Holland Festival backed by the Metropole Orchestra, the Carré Theatre, and the RAI Centre.
After van Leer left Shaffy's theatre group in mid-1969, he formed a three-piece rock band with Cleuver and Dresden, playing local gigs with a set of covers by Traffic and their own materialunder the early names of Trio Thijs van Leer and Thijs van Leer and the Rebaptised. They also recorded several radio and television commercials. In November 1969 they were joined by guitarist Jan Akkerman, who had performed with the three on Sunset Sunkiss, and settled on the name Focus, thus completing the first line-up of the band. From December 1969 to June 1970, the four were members of the pit band for the Dutch performance of the rock musical Hair .
Focus released their first album, Focus Plays Focus , better known as its international title In and Out of Focus, in August 1970.Van Leer became a prominent figure in the group, writing the majority of their songs and singing English lyrics. After a line-up change, the band released Moving Waves (1971) that included their international hit single "Hocus Pocus" which featured van Leer's distinct vocals, yodelling, whistling, and scat singing. His influence from the Sufi movement through his mother is displayed in "Moving Waves", a piano and vocal composition he wrote when he was sixteen and quotes a teaching from its creator, Inayat Khan. The album closes with "Eruption", a 22-minute track that is "based on a musical idea" by van Leer who gained inspiration from the operas Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Gluck and L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, combining rock, jazz and classical influences. Focus 3 (1972) includes the band's second hit single "Sylvia" and includes van Leer's organ and operatic vocals. Van Leer's classical background is evident on the van Leer/Akkerman penned title track on Hamburger Concerto from 1974, based on Variations on a Theme by Haydn by Johannes Brahms. The miniature "Delitae Musicae" equally belongs to Monteverdi.
In 1969, van Leer played the flute on Love Me or Leave Me (1969) by Dutch singer Rita Hovink.The following year, van Leer wrote, arranged and conducted music for singer Bojoura for her third album, The Beauty of Bojoura (1970). She had previously worked with van Leer's trio with Shaffy, singing a cover of "Frank Mills" from Hair. Robin Lent used van Leer to play piano and flute on Scarecrow's Journey (1971), and arranged and played the flute on the Dutch cast production album of Oh! Calcutta! (1971).
Van Leer headed Focus through several line-up changes, and by early 1976 he was the only remaining original member; the group disbanded in 1978.
In 2002, van Leer reformed Focus which has since released the albums Focus 8 , Focus 9 / New Skin , "Live In Europe", Focus X,, Golden Oldies , Focus 8.5 / Beyond the Horizon , "The Focus Family Album, Focus 11 and Focus 50 .
In mid-1972, after securing a solo recording deal with CBS Records, van Leer released his first solo album, Introspection . It features a selection of classical pieces by Bach and Gabriel Faure, Focus songs, and original compositions arranged for flute and orchestra by van Otterloo, and soprano vocals by Letty de Jong.Introspection was a commercial success in the Netherlands, reaching number one for three weeks in early 1973 and earning a gold certification. In late 1975, van Leer released Introspection 2 which spent one week at number one in the Netherlands during a 19-week stay in the top 10. Van Leer continued the album series with Introspection 3, in 1977.
After Focus split in 1978, van Leer continued with his solo career and took part in various projects. He formed the rock band Conxi, featuring Dutch and Senegalese musicians, and a rock group Van Leer with an American singer.
In the early 1980s, van Leer worked and toured with Spanish singer Miguel Ríos playing keyboards and flute on his albums Extraños en el escaparate (1981), Rock & Ríos (1982) and El rock de una noche de verano (1983).
In 1981, van Leer formed the multi-national band Pedal Point with musicians Tato Gomez and Mario Argandoñafrom Chile and Paul Shigihara from Japan. They recorded a double album, Dona Nobis Pacem, based on a composition van Leer had written that he later cited as "one of the most important compositions of mine", and a high point of his career in an artistic sense.
In 1985, van Leer reunited with Akkerman and together recorded Focus: Jan Akkerman & Thijs van Leer (1985).
Van Leer was one of the artists who recorded the song Shalom from Holland (written by Simon Hammelburg and Ron Klipstein) as a token of solidarity to the Israeli people, threatened by missiles from Iraq, during the first Gulf War in 1991.
He also appeared as a guest musician on the album, Into the Electric Castle , by Arjen Anthony Lucassen's musical project Ayreon.
In 2008, Explore Multimedia released van Leer's first solo album in almost a decade, The Home Concert. The album features recordings made in his living room as he played material for Focus 9. The album is exclusively available online.
On 13 September 2008, van Leer was made a Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau for "special services to music."
In 2010, van Leer performed at a concert with Raccomandata Ricevuta Ritorno to celebrate 40 years of imaginative music
On 15 May 1972, van Leer married Rosalie Peters. Together they had two children: daughter Bella and son Banten.The marriage ended in divorce by the early 1980s. He subsequently married Thea van der Kaay, ex-wife of Ruud Jacobs, but after twenty years they divorced too. Together they had three children: Eva and Berenice and son Ruben. Presently van Leer lives in Lathum, the Netherlands with his third wife, Annelies Lommen.
Focus are a Dutch progressive rock band formed in Amsterdam in 1969 by keyboardist, vocalist, and flautist Thijs van Leer, drummer Hans Cleuver, bassist Martijn Dresden, and guitarist Jan Akkerman. The band have undergone numerous formations in its history; since December 2016, it has comprised van Leer, drummer Pierre van der Linden, guitarist Menno Gootjes, and bassist Udo Pannekeet. They have sold one million RIAA-certified albums in the United States.
Jan Akkerman is a Dutch guitarist. He first found international commercial success with the band Focus, which he co-founded with Thijs van Leer. After leaving Focus, he continued as a solo musician, adding jazz fusion influences.
Ramses Shaffy was a Dutch-French singer and actor who became popular during the 1960s. His most famous songs include "Zing, vecht, huil, bid, lach, werk en bewonder", "We zullen doorgaan", "Pastorale", "Sammy" and "Laat me". He frequently collaborated with Dutch singer Liesbeth List.
Focus 3 or Focus III is the third studio album by Dutch rock band Focus, released as a double album in November 1972 on Imperial Records. Recorded after touring in support of their previous album, Focus II (1971), the album saw the band write extended pieces and is their first with bassist Bert Ruiter in the group's line-up.
Focus II is the second studio album by Dutch progressive rock band Focus, released in October 1971 on Imperial Records. Following the departure of Martin Dresden and Hans Cleuver in 1970, the band recruited Cyril Havermans on bass and Pierre van der Linden on drums and proceeded to work on new material. The album includes "Hocus Pocus", the group's most successful single, and "Eruption", a 23-minute track based on the opera Euridice by Jacopo Peri.
Cyril Havermans is a Dutch musician, best known for being in the progressive rock band, Focus.
Cyril is the first solo album by Dutch singer-songwriter Cyril Havermans. It was recorded in 1973 after Havermans left Dutch progressive rock band Focus. The parting was amicable and came about partly as a result of Havermans' desire to include more vocal content. His erstwhile band-mates contribute much instrumentation to the album.
Focus Plays Focus is the first studio album by Dutch rock band Focus, released in September 1970 on Imperial Records. It is the only album recorded by the group's original line-up consisting of organist and vocalist Thijs van Leer, bassist Martin Dresden, drummer Hans Cleuver, and guitarist Jan Akkerman. It was renamed In and Out of Focus for the international re-release of the album from 1971 onwards which included their debut single "House of the King".
Hamburger Concerto is the fourth studio album by the Dutch progressive rock band Focus, released in April 1974. It peaked at #20 on the UK charts. The title track is based on Variations on a Theme by Haydn by Johannes Brahms. The composition also incorporates the first two verses of the Dutch Christmas carol O Kerstnacht, schoner dan de dagen at around 15 min.
Mother Focus is the fifth studio album by the band Focus, released in 1975 on Polydor in Europe, on Atco Records in North America and on EMI in Japan. Some tracks on the album mark a departure from the progressive rock style that dominated the group's prior work, and herald a funk music style with light jazz and pop at the centre. Bassist Bert Ruiter provided most of the themes, as van Leer had just recorded a solo album, O My Love, of his own music, and Jan Akkerman withheld compositions for Eli, his forthcoming album with Kaz Lux.
At the Rainbow is the first live album from the Dutch rock band Focus, released in October 1973 on Imperial Records. The album was recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London on 5 May 1973. A studio album was initially slated for release, but it was shelved due to disagreements within the band. At the Rainbow was released instead.
Ship of Memories is the sixth studio album from the Dutch rock band Focus, released in 1976 on EMI-Bovema. It's a compilation album. During a period of group inactivity, longtime associate Hubert Terheggen asked their producer Mike Vernon to select previously unreleased material for official release. Compiled without any active involvement by any band member, the recordings date from January 1970 to mid-1975, and largely during unproductive recording sessions in 1973 for a follow up studio album to Focus 3 (1972).
Focus con Proby is the seventh studio album by the Dutch rock band Focus, released in 1977 on EMI Records. It features five tracks with vocals from American singer P. J. Proby. The record also features guitarists Eef Albers and Philip Catherine, drummer Steve Smith, as well as the two Focus members from previous albums. Smith and Albers would later go on to collaborate on the first two albums of Smith's band Vital Information.
Introspection is the debut solo album by classical and progressive rock musician Thijs van Leer, released in 1972.
"Sylvia" is a 1972 song by Dutch rock band Focus. It was released on their 1972 album Focus 3 and as a single on 27 January 1973. The single became the band's biggest international hit.
The Focus Family Album is a compilation album by the Dutch progressive rock band Focus and shares the same concept with 1976's Ship of Memories. A total of 15 previously unreleased tracks and alternate versions are included on this set.
Focus 11 is the fourteenth studio album by Dutch progressive rock band Focus, released in November 2018 on In and Out of Focus Records. It is their first album to feature bassist Udo Pannekeet, who replaced Bobby Jacobs in 2016.
Live at the BBC is a live album by the Dutch progressive rock group Focus, recorded on 21 March 1976, and broadcast on Radio 1 in the BBC Concert Series, but released only in 2004 by Hux Records, in CD format.
"House of the King" is an instrumental by the Dutch rock band Focus. It was released as a single in January 1971 and reached No. 10 on the Dutch charts and sold well across Europe. In the UK, it was issued on both the group's first album, In And Out of Focus and the 1972 double album Focus 3.
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