A solid timekeeper and a colorful soloist, Cliff Leeman was versatile enough to be equally skilled both in big bands and Dixieland-oriented combos. When he was just 13, he was already a talented enough musician to play with the Portland Symphony. As a teenager he went on a vaudeville tour as a xylophonist. During the swing era, Leeman worked with several major big bands including most notably Artie Shaw (1936-1938), Glenn Miller (very briefly in 1939), Tommy Dorsey (1939), Charlie Barnet (1940-1943), Johnny Long, and Woody Herman (1943-1944). After a few months in the Army, Leeman freelanced with small and large bands for the next few years (including Don Byas, the 1944-1945 John Kirby Sextet, Raymond Scott, Jimmy Dorsey, and Ben Webster). He then left the music business for two years before becoming part of the Casa Loma Orchestra (1947), Charlie Barnet's bebop orchestra (1949), and Bob Chester's big band (1949-1950). Leeman worked regularly on radio (including The Hit Parade) and television during the '50s but also appeared often at Eddie Condon's club and at Nick's with Bobby Hackett. He played with (among many others) Pee Wee Erwin, the Yank Lawson/Bob Haggart band, Ralph Sutton, Billy Butterfield, Bob Crosby (1960), Wild Bill Davison (1962), the Dukes of Dixieland (1963-1964), Peanuts Hucko, and Condon. Leeman freelanced during most of his last two decades including stints with Joe Venuti, the Kings of Jazz (1974), Davison, Bud Freeman, Don Ewell, the World's Greatest Jazz Band (1976-1977), Jimmy McPartland, and Joe Venuti; he appears on an all-star video (which is available) from 1976 with McPartland and Venuti. As a leader, Cliff Leeman is at the head of a couple Fat Cat Jazz albums from the '70s, jam sessions recorded at the Manassas Jazz Festival.
Cliff Leeman Biography
by Scott Yanow