Leon Gross

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The Leon Gross whose big band was an attraction on the Harlem music scene in the '30s and '40s is not the same musician as the Leon T. Gross who performed and recorded primarily under the stage name of…
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The Leon Gross whose big band was an attraction on the Harlem music scene in the '30s and '40s is not the same musician as the Leon T. Gross who performed and recorded primarily under the stage name of Archibald and was based out of New Orleans. Ironically, the former Gross is one of the rare bandleaders from the early jazz days whose performances are easier to see on film -- and/or its various bastard offspring such as video and DVD -- than on recordings, despite the plethora of reissue projects from the era of Gross' heyday.

Critics may suggest that there were much better bands hitting New York City ballroom venues such as the New Amsterdam during this period, the Gross set list sometimes packed with too many worn-out standards of the "Dinah" or "I Got Rhythm" variety. Yet the bandleader's connections with the black film industry were apparently quite solid, allowing him something of a steady presence in '30s all-black film vehicles, many of which were simply a series of musical performances strung together with the barest of plots. Gross' entire band is sometimes featured; in other films, he worked behind the scenes as a conductor. These film credits include Swing!, God's Step Children, and Harlem After Midnight. Often shot in an incredible rush, the performances in these films may be better experienced as segments of a compilation such as the DVD entitled Legends of Jazz, in second printings allowed an honest expansion to Legends of Jazz, Vol. 1.