Born Leon Diamond Washington in Jackson, MS, Washington lived in Chicago from the age of three. He played clarinet before switching to tenor sax. Washington studied sax with the renowned mouthpiece designer and saxophonist Santy Runyon. He began his professional career immediately upon graduating from high school in 1926, working with pianist Zinky Cohn, among others.Washington made his first recording in 1930 with bandleader Frankie Franco and from 1931-1933 worked with Bernie Young & the Creolians. From 1934-1935 he played with bandleader Carroll Dickerson at Chicago's Sunset Café. In 1935, Washington played in Louis Armstrong's big band for a brief period; shortly thereafter he toured with Fats Waller's big band. In 1937 Washington joined Earl Hines' band at the Grand Terrace. A year later he began playing with drummer Red Saunders' band. Washington stayed with Saunders for 25 years -- 18 of them spent in residence at Chicago's Club de Lisa. Washington first recorded with Saunders in 1945 and played on most of the drummer's subsequent sessions. He also recorded under his own name and with others. Upon leaving Saunders in 1963, Washington became a musician's union official in Chicago, which he remained until his death of leukemia in 1973.
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