Leonard Davis

Biography by

The best-known musician by the name of Leonard Davis also garnered the nickname of "Ham" during his lifetime -- but not for anything he did during any of his trumpet solos, at least not based on any of…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

The best-known musician by the name of Leonard Davis also garnered the nickname of "Ham" during his lifetime -- but not for anything he did during any of his trumpet solos, at least not based on any of the dozens of records he appears on with real hams such as Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. Davis began performing as a lad in St. Louis and was part of the local Odd Fellows Boys' Band, by name alone perhaps representing a preview of the eccentric world of jazz awaiting him. Before moving to New York City in the second half of the '20s, the trumpeter collaborated in St. Louis with that city's historic bandleader Charlie Creath.

Prior to his recording debut in 1929 as part of Eddie Condon's band, Davis worked in a theater band led by Edgar Hayes, a man who would continue to be one of his collaborators throughout the trumpeter's career. He also played with pianist Arthur Gibbs for two years beginning in 1927. As the '30s unrolled, the names of the artists that employed this trumpeter begin to take on much more luster: Elmer Snowden, Don Redman, and Benny Carter among them. From 1935 through 1937 he was a member of Armstrong's Orchestra, then rejoined his old pal Hayes. They toured Europe together, and Davis worked for several years as part of the Blackbirds show upon his return to New York.

When soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Sidney Bechet assembled a nine-piece band in 1940, he remembered Davis from his hero Armstrong's extended group and hired him. A bit later Davis and Hayes were reunited, this time in the context of Maurice Hubbard's Band. Before backing off from full-time music in the mid-'40s, Davis put in stints with both Albert Socarras and George James. He continued to perform live from time to time around New York City up until his death in 1957, most often in dance or wedding bands or casual club dates.