Leonard was born in Kansas City in 1905. A professional musician from the age of 17, he joined Benny Moten's orchestra in 1923, where he led the reed section until 1931. In 1931 he and Thamon Hayes formed the Kansas City Skyrockets, which included trumpeter Ed Lewis, trombonist Vic Dickenson, and pianist Jesse Stone. After disputes with the Chicago local of the American Federation of Musicians the band broke up.
Leonard then formed a new band, Harlan Leonard and his Rockets which featured a young Myra Taylor. This band went on to be the leading band in Kansas City and touring nationally. Charlie Parker played in this band for five weeks, but was fired by Leonard for lack of discipline. The band's music is considered transitional between swing and bop. The band broke up during the Second World War, and Leonard left professional music. He later worked for the Internal Revenue Service and died in Los Angeles in 1983.
- Frank Driggs & Barry Kernfeld. "Harlan Leonard". In L. Root, Deane. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
- Music Web Encyclopaedia
- Big Band Serenade No. 111 (Includes 39 minutes of band playing
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