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Leonard, Harlan "Mike"

July 2, 1905 -- November 10, 1983
bandleader, reed player

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Harlan Leonard attended Lincoln High School where he studied with Major N. Clark Smith, playing clarinet in the marching band. After graduation in 1923, he joined the Bennie Moten band leading the reed section and doubling on alto saxophone and clarinet.

In 1931, Leonard and trombonist Thamon Hayes left the Moten band and formed the Thamon Hayes Band.

Hayes, Leonard and Jesse Stone rehearsed the band rigorously, biding their time until the annual spring battle of the bands at Paseo Hall in May of 1932. There, decked out in "brown Eaton suits," the the Thamon Hayes "Wonder" Band defeated the Moten band in a grudge match. As a result of their defeat, a fist fight broke out among members of the vanquished Moten band.

Harlan Leonard
image link
In 1934, Hayes left the band after a dispute with the musicians union and Leonard assumed leadership of the group. Leonard later recruited younger players in Kansas City including Henry Bridges and Jimmy Keith on reeds; Fred Beckett, trombone; and veteran drummer Jesse Price. As the Kansas City Rockets, this group [30k image] quickly became a favorite with Kaycee audiences, frequently playing Fairyland Park.

The Rockets recorded for the Bluebird label in 1940 and enjoyed a minor hit with "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" real audio featuring Myra Taylor on vocals. To appeal to dancers, the Rockets took the tempo at double time. Years later, the Ink Spots would make a much bigger hit with the same tune, performed as a ballad.

Leonard and the Rockets relocated to Los Angeles in 1942. The Rockets disbanded in 1945 and Leonard went to work as a civil servant at the Post Office and the Internal Revenue Service.

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Pearson, Nathan.
Goin' to Kansas City. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
Russell, Ross.
Jazz Style in Kansas City and the Southwest. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.
Feather, Leonard.
"Harlan Leonard and His Rockets." Liner notes. RCA Victor LPV-531, Radio Corporation of America, 1966.
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