Saxophonist/arranger Leigh Pilzer has performed at many of Washington, DC’s top jazz venues, including Blues Alley, Twins Jazz, Westminster Presbyterian, the Atlas Performing Arts Center, Jazz at the Garden, The Mansion at Strathmore, and the Takoma Park JazzFest, among others.
Leigh is a member of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, DIVA, the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, and Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes. With SJMO, DIVA, and the National Symphony Orchestra she has toured across the United States and in Austria, Canada, Croatia, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Holland, and Russia. She also freelances with a variety of ensembles in the mid-Atlantic region.
Leigh’s arrangements have been performed by the DC-area premier military jazz ensembles and by college and professional jazz ensembles and brass quintets throughout the country. DIVA has recorded several of Leigh’s big band arrangements: two can be heard on DIVA’s most recent CD, A Swingin’ Life (2014) and two more are included on the band’s first all-original release Special Kay (2016). Another was featured on the soundtrack for Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular (2014). Other arranging credits include large and small ensemble originals and arrangements on Introducing…, It Don’t Mean a Thing, and Bullettes and Friends by Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes; horn section writing for recordings by Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy; and orchestrations for the critically acclaimed show Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life.
Repertory performances and lecture recitals include “Collaboration in Jazz, Featuring the Music of Gerry Mulligan” and “The Music of The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Mary Lou Williams, and Melba Liston” with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra Quintet; “Sax in the City,” featuring the music of Benny Carter, Gerry Mulligan, and Lester Young with the SJMO saxophone and rhythm sections; and “Women in Jazz: The Early Years,” “The Music of Melba Liston,” and “Tribute to Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker” at the Washington Women in Jazz Festival.
Leigh holds a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Composition and Arranging from the Berklee College of Music and Master’s degrees in Jazz Studies and Saxophone Performance from The University of Maryland, College Park. After completing her academic work at Maryland she enrolled in the PhD program in Musicology with a major in Music Theory at The Catholic University of America. She later transferred to George Mason University where she is currently working on a DMA and is a recipient of the merit-based Presidential Scholarship. Leigh has served on the faculties of the University of Maryland and Towson University, where she has taught Jazz Theory, Jazz Arranging, and Jazz History.
Leigh’s debut CD Strunkin’, recorded live at the Washington Women in Jazz Festival in March 2016, was released on October 21, 2016.
“She is her own player, engaging in her own right and successfully so as this recording illustrates.”
—Robert Rusch, Cadence Magazine
“She improvises with fluency and panache.”
“Gruff and punchy, keeping to the low end, Pilzer’s got plenty to say.”
—Michael J. West, Washington CityPaper