Leon "Leo" Adde

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Like many great early jazz drummers, Leo Adde started out with a cigar box, and not because his father was hosting a celebration over the lad's birth. The traditional light wooden cigar box makes a grand…
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Like many great early jazz drummers, Leo Adde started out with a cigar box, and not because his father was hosting a celebration over the lad's birth. The traditional light wooden cigar box makes a grand percussion instrument, one that renders an actual drum set obsolete if the principals of adaptability of sound production versus ease of toting are factored in. The cigar box was one of a family of instruments, including the washtub or thump tub, the broomstick and jingle stick, the human knee, and often any arrangement of bones no longer connected to an actual skeleton: all standards of a so-called "spasm band." Adde and partner Raymond Burke had a "spasm duo" that performed around New Orleans circa 1914. Adde added his presence to the Halfway House Orchestra under the direction of Abby Brunies, just one member of a major New Orleans jazz family dynasty. The Brunies -- whose performing ensemble was like a moving classroom and whose venue was quite often the family veranda -- were like blacksmiths forging rhythmic horseshoes from a mixture of African, Latin American, and South American alloys. Adde was one of the percussionists who helped realize the dream of recordings such as the valuable "Golden Leaf Strut," done for Okeh in 1925. The drummer's career continued at a brisk pace, the '20s finished out in the company of pianist Johnny Millinder and his

New Orleans Frolickers. There are recordings from the '20s of Adde in this group as well as with cornetist Johnny Bayersdorffer and taking over the drum chair in a 1925 version of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, adding another piece of evidence to the charge that this drummer will only play in a group if the name of his hometown is attached to it.

Perhaps he dedicated the '30s to the challenge of proving such criticisms wrong, devoting his superb drumming chops to the service of the Melody Masters, a combo at first co-led by a pair of trumpeters, Sharkey Bonano and Leon Prima, brother of famous bandleader Louis Prima. The drummer followed this group to New York City in the early '30s, where the management position was shuffled around within the group, and the name sometimes lengthened to the -- aha! -- New Orleans Melody Masters. Adde also had a hoot recording with the New Orleans Owls, relocating back to his locale of choice before the '30s were over. He gets a songwriting credit on the piece "Barataria," co-written with Bill Eastwood during the very first Halfway House Orchestra recording session.