One of the top Kansas City bandleaders of the late 1930s and early '40s, Harlan Leonard was fortunate enough to lead four recording sessions in 1940 that resulted in 24 selections and really showed off the strengths of his band. Leonard started playing professional with George E. Lee's group in 1923, and a few months later, he became lead altoist with Bennie Moten. He was with Moten for eight years (up until 1931) and then during 1931-1934, the altoist was with the Kansas City Sky Rockets which was led by trombonist Thamon Hayes. When Hayes departed in 1934, Leonard became its leader. Three years later, the group broke up and he soon formed a new big band, Harlan Leonard's Rockets. The band was most notable for the arrangements of Tadd Dameron (in his prebop days), Eddie Durham, and Buster Smith, and the solos of tenorman Henry Bridges and trombonist Fred Beckett (an early inspiration for J.J. Johnson). Although they appeared in New York during part of 1940, the Rockets were based in Kansas City and mostly played in the Midwest until 1943 when Leonard relocated to Los Angeles and put together a completely different orchestra. After that group broke up in 1945, Harlan Leonard permanently left music to work for the Internal Revenue Service.
Share this page