Cecil Leeson

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Cecil Leeson
Born16 December 1902
Died17 April 1989 (1989-04-18) (aged 86)

Cecil Leeson (16 December 1902 North Dakota – 17 April 1989),[1] a musician and teacher, was widely credited with establishing the saxophone as a legitimate concert instrument.

Early life[edit]

In 1921, Cecil Leeson enrolled as a saxophone major in Dana's Musical Institute in Warren, Ohio (currently part of Youngstown State University).


From 1926, he worked on occassion in various commercial groups in Detroit, and later in back in Ohio. This included a bi-weekly session for radio station WHK. Cecil's classical approach of saxophone playing, which differed from jazz and dance saxophone music popular at the time, helped to promote classical saxophone style in a mainstream medium.[2]

A writer in the Hollywood News said that "in Leeson's capable hands, the saxophone [is] no longer the blatant jazz instrument of popular conception, but an instrument of really beautiful tone color [...]. If there were other saxophonists who could play as Leeson does, the saxophone would speedily make its appearance in the symphony orchestra."

During the early 1930s, he joined the faculty at the Hollywood Conservatory of Music and taught there for several years. From 1934 to 1939, Leeson collaborated with American composer Paul Creston, which resulted in several major pieces for the classical saxophone repertoire.

In 1937, Cecil Leeson was the first saxophonist to play at Town Hall in New York City. He was also one of the first saxophonists to appear as a soloist with major American symphony orchestras. More than 50 works for saxophone were written for him by composers such as Leon Stein, Edvard Moritz, Paul Creston, and Ferde Grofé.

Leeson taught saxophone performance at Northwestern University from 1955 to 1961 and then at Ball State University. His papers and his collection of original Adolphe Sax and other famous saxophones are in the America's National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota.

The 2nd World Saxophone Congress in Chicago in 1970, "honored Leeson for 50 years of pioneering and contributing to the establishment of the saxophone in the field of music".[3]

According to Stephen Cottrell, "Leeson's style of saxophone performance established in the United States a school of classical saxophone playing that differed from the European model."[4]


  1. ^ "Cecil Leeson", The North American Saxophone Alliance Online
  2. ^ Stephen Cottrell (2013). The Saxophone (Yale Musical Instrument Series). Yale Musical Instrument Series. p. 253-254.
  3. ^ "Saxophonist Leeson Dies", The Lewiston Daily, Sun - Apr 19, 1989. Via Google news, retrieved 11 Nov 2011
  4. ^ Stephen Cottrell (2013). The Saxophone (Yale Musical Instrument Series). Yale Musical Instrument Series. p. 256.

External links[edit]


  • Mark Hulsebos, Cecil Leeson: the pioneering of the concert saxophone in America from 1921 to 1941, Publisher Ball State University, 1989.