LEON MITCHELL was born in August 1934 and raised in North Philadelphia,
PA where he attended public schools and was an honor graduate from Northeast High School
in 1951. He has been immersed in music since he turned pro as an alto saxophonist
immediately after graduation. Leon continued his music studies in the years that followed
with Romeo Cascarino at Combs College, Jimmy Heath, and Bill Barron, the older brother
of the fabulous Jazz pianist Kenny Barron. Very early, his musical interests leaned
toward composition and arranging, and he focused on developing his skills in these areas.
In 1956, Art Blakey recorded the first of Leon's Jazz compositions entitled "Late Spring" with his Jazz Messengers. Leon commuted between Philly and New York City subcontracting arranging work from Gigi Gryce and several other outstanding arrangers in many different projects.
Leon's musical career was interrupted in 1957 when he entered the U.S. Army. After returning to civilian life in April, 1959, he resumed his career. When Billie Holiday died, Leon, being a great admirer, wrote a tribute to her called "To Lady." That song was recorded for Capitol Records by Max Roach's group while her funeral was proceeding up in Harlem on July 21, 1959. During that time, Leon signed a childhood friend, Billy Paul, to a management contact and got a recording contract on Finch Records for him. Billy's Finch recording "There's A Small Hotel" was his first hit.
In early 1960, Stanley Turrentine, who was with the Max Roach Quartet, recommended Leon to Blue Note Records' Alfred Lyon and he became that company's first A&R Director who wasn't signed to the company as an artist. He supervised sessions that featured Stanley Turrentine, Horace Parlan, Donald Byrd, Johnny Griffin, Kenny Durham, Jackie McLean, etc. Many recordings also featured Leon's Jazzy compositions like "Oh So Blue," "Fine Li'l Lass," and "Ray C," etc.
In 1962, Leon became disenchanted with the New York rat-race and moved his musical focus back to Philly. He returned to the band at The Uptown Theatre where he had worked some under his cousin Harry "Doc" Bagby in the late 50s. Leon remained at The Uptown until 1974 in some capacity, except for a short stint as House Bandleader at The State Theatre when it was opened by Douglas "Jocko" Henderson as a Live Show House in 1963. For most of the last 10 years that the Uptown Theatre was open, Leon was the Uptown's House Bandleader, House Music Arranger and Musician's Union Rep. During that time, he worked with everybody who was anybody in Rhythm and Blues and listed among his notable arranging students are Philly Sound super-star arranger/writer/producers Thom Bell, Norman Harris, Ron Kersey, etc. Another of Leon's arranging students was the fabulous Donny Hathaway.
From 1963 to 1991, Leon also ran a full-service, one-man, commercial printing company where he trained many youngsters, preparing them for jobs in the Graphics Arts Field. Since closing the Leon Mitchell Printing Service in 1991, Leon has put all of his energies into music, and in 1993, he became the Musical Director of the Philadelphia Legends of Jazz Orchestra, a position that he still holds today. He is also the orchestra's chief arranger. Leon has also dedicated a large portion of his time to building the career of his Jazz vocalist wife, Ella Gahnt whose CD "Immaculate Union" was released in the Spring of 2002 and followed in 2007 by "By Request." They are available at CDBaby.com/ellagahnt and CDBaby.com/ellagahnt2 and exerpts can be heard daily on Philly's WRTI-FM (90.1).
A very satisfying arranging project occurred a couple of years ago when Mr. Nate Davenport enlisted Leon's aid in developing his presentation "Billie Holiday, Your Music Lives On." Leon wrote all of the arrangements for the show which also features an instrumental version of his original composition, "To Lady."
As the Musical Director of the Philadelphia Legends of Jazz Orchestra, Leon is always on the lookout for Jazz musicians who improvise well and read music well. It's surprising how many fill the improvise specifications but are not good readers. When Leon encountered this problem while in the 434th U.S. Army Band at Ft. Gordon, Ga. in 1958, he developed an original rhythm perception system that was very helpful to his fellow band members. His system, now entitled, "Solving Syncopation and Other Rhythmic Anomalies" is currently being taught by Leon as a part of Lovett Hines' Musical Education Program at The Phila. Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts in Philly. The program has a definite Jazz orientation, and Leon's goal is to make sure that the youngsters and adults who go through the program are well versed in all aspects of reading music as well as music composition and arranging. Leon also makes sure that his students become aware of the names, extensive history, and influence of the Jazz musicians from the Philadelphia Area on the international scene. In 2006, the Clef Club's Music Education Program was expanded to include 3rd and 6th grade students from Kenny Gamble's Universal Institute Charter School in Philadelphia.
Over the last few years, Leon has become adept at creating Internet web sites. He is currently the Webmaster for the Philadelphia Legends of Jazz Orchestra bopsite at PhillyLegendsOfJazz.com; and his Philly Jazz Event Calendar which he located at JazzEventsInPhilly.com so Philly area Jazz fans can keep track of Jazz Events in the tri-state area.
Thanks for checking out Leon Mitchell, now give him a gig!!!!!!!