Leon Breeden

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Leon Breeden
Birth name Harold Leon Breeden
Born (1921-10-03)October 3, 1921
Guthrie, Oklahoma, US
Died August 11, 2010(2010-08-11) (aged 88)
Dallas, Texas, US
Genres Jazz, classical
Occupation(s) Educator, musician, composer
Instruments Clarinet
Associated acts One O'Clock Lab Band

Harold Leon Breeden (3 October 1921 Guthrie, Oklahoma – 11 August 2010 Dallas, Texas), known as Leon Breeden, was a jazz studies educator at the collegiate level, a classical and jazz clarinetist, a saxophonist, a prolific composer and arranger, a music clinician, and jazz festival judge. The Associated Press release of Breeden's death referred to him as, "legendary director of the University of North Texas' jazz program who made its 'One O'Clock Lab Band' internationally famous."[1][2]

Career as jazz education pioneer[edit]

Breeden was the chairman of Jazz Studies — and director of the One O'Clock Lab Band — at the University of North Texas College of Music from 1959 to 1981. From early in his tenure at North Texas, Breeden led its Jazz Studies division to rapid rise in international prominence.

The One O'Clock Lab Band is the highest level of nine big bands at the College of Music. The College of Music is a comprehensive music school with the largest enrollment of any music institution accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music[3] and the first in the world to offer a degree in jazz studies at the collegiate level.

Breeden's tenure at the University of North Texas College of Music[edit]

Breeden took the One O'Clock Lab Band to London, Paris, Portugal, Russia, Mexico, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland. The band played in most major cities throughout the U.S. and the Spoleto Music Festival.

The band performed at the White House for the parties of Presidents Johnson, Carter and Reagan. They played for the U.S. visit of the King and Queen of Thailand.

The One O'Clock has accompanied Ella Fitzgerald and has produced members for the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman bands.

Breeden’s former students include Marvin Stamm, Lou Marini, Bobby Knight, Lyle Mays, Galen Jeter, Sparky Koerner, Marc Johnson, Byron Parks, Paul Guerrero, Lanny Steele, Dee Barton, Neal Ramsay, Jim Riggs and Herb Ellis. There are more than 600 recordings of the jazz band’s performances in the North Texas School of Music archives.

Breeden and Jazz Studies, particularly the One O'Clock Lab Band, elevated the academic notoriety of the university on an international scale, perhaps more so than any other person or program at the university in its history.

Entire career overview[edit]

During the early part of World War II, Breeden served in the military in the 69th Infantry Division Band as Music Librarian and played in the band at Ft. Bliss.

In 1944, after military duty, he became the Director of Bands at Texas Christian University, and later served as Director of Bands at Grand Prairie High School from 1953 to 1959.

In 1959, M.E. "Gene" Hall, Founding Director of Jazz Studies at the University of North Texas College of Music, urged and recommended Breeden to replace Hall as Director of Jazz Studies, where Breeden remained until his retirement in 1984.

A classically trained clarinetist, Breeden also played saxophone and studied composition and arranging at TCU. He was a teaching assistant under Don Gillis, Director of Bands at Texas Christian University, whom he later worked with in New York from 1950 to 1952, serving as his assistant.

Gillis was the Producer of the NBC Symphony, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. During this time, Breeden met with and wrote arrangements for Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops. It was Gillis who recommended Breeden for work. In 1950, upon hearing his first arrangements for the group, Fiedler offered Breeden a permanent spot as the staff writer and arranger for the orchestra, but with an ill father, Breeden declined the highly prized offer and moved back to Texas. Upon returning to Texas, Breeden worked as music coordinator for KXAS-TV in Fort Worth— then known as WBAP-TV.


1965 The University of North Texas student body honored Breeden with 'Fessor Graham Award, the highest honor bestowed annually by students to a faculty member for outstanding and unselfish service to students beyond the call of duty
1976 The University of North Texas recognized Breeden as an Outstanding Professor
1981 By unanimous vote, the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate, in the 67th Legislature, proclaimed May 3, 1981, as "Leon Breeden Day"
1985 Breeden was inducted into the International Association for Jazz Education Hall of Fame
1987 In a surprise One O'Clock Lab Band reunion, more than 400 of Breeden's former students — many of whom are formidable artists, performers, and educators — traveled from all parts of the world honor him
1995 The Texas Chapter (Alpha Chapter) of Phi Beta Mu, an international bandmasters fraternity, inducted Breeden into the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame (note: neither the Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Mu nor the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame is affiliated with the Texas Band Masters Association)
1990 The Dallas Jazz Orchestra produced an Album honoring Breeden, titled, Thank You, Leon
2001 Texas Christian University awarded Breeden an honorary doctor of letters degree
2003 The North Texas Jazz Festival established the Leon Breeden Award for the best middle school or high school big band
2009 The University of North Texas awarded Breeden with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree[5]

Later appearances[edit]

In the last several years of his life, Breeden frequently soloed on clarinet with The Official Texas Jazz Orchestra.[6]

Growing up[edit]

Breeden used his first given name, "Harold," only while serving in the Army. When he was three years of age his parents moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, where he grew up and graduated from high school. He attended Texas Wesleyan College in Ft. Worth on a scholarship and later transferred to Texas Christian University where he completed both his Bachelor’s and Master's degrees. While doing graduate work at Columbia University in New York City, he studied clarinet with Sir Reginald Kell, an internationally acclaimed clarinetist who had immigrated to the U.S. in 1948. Benny Goodman began studies with Kell in 1949.


  • 1945 — Leon Breeden married Bonna Joyce McKee (25 October 1926 Bynum, Texas – 7 September 1988 Denton, Texas), whom he had met while working on his master's degree at TCU.[7] They had three children:
  1. David McKee Breeden (19 July 1946 Fort Worth, Texas – 22 June 2005 San Mateo, California)
  2. Daniel Leon Breeden (16 April 1948 Fort Worth, Texas – 11 February 1968 Dallas, Texas)
  3. Vicki Lynn Breeden (born October 2, 1951, Fort Worth, Texas)
  • June 18, 1990 (Denton, TX) — Leon remarried a childhood sweetheart:
Bennye Wayne (née "Nobles," name from former marriage, "Reid," – "Ms. Billy Ray Reid;" 24 December 1921 Decatur, Texas – 29 April 2010 Denton, Texas). Breeden and Bennye met while in the fourth grade in Wichita Falls, Texas.[8] Bennye divorced Billy Ray Reid June 29, 1978 in Fort Worth; but from Bennye's marriage with Billy Ray Reid, aka "Slick" (1923–2007), Leon has stepchildren:
  1. Michael Victor Reid (born 1945)
  2. Melinda Ray Reid (born 1950), who, in 1973, married to David Lane Shockley (1952) in Fort Worth
  3. Jimmy Browning of Fort Worth
  4. LeAnna Sharp of Arlington, Texas
  5. Barry Browning of Arlington, Texas


Leon Breeden died of natural causes on August 11, 2010 in a Dallas, TX hospital.[9]

Videos Honoring Leon Breeden (1921–2010)

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Leon Breeden, 1940–2010 (240 boxes) (2002)


General references

Inline citations

  1. ^ "Jazz Educator Leon Breeden Dies at 88," The Associated Press, August 11, 2010
  2. ^ From the Cowbarn to the Concert Hall With Music! by Leon Breeden, Denton, Texas: H. Gore Publishing Co. (Harold Ray Gore; 1930–2013), c/o Pender's Music Co. (2001); OCLC 49973018
  3. ^ HEADS Data – Special Report, 2009-10, National Association of Schools of Music Note: For more than 20 years, North Texas Music enrollment has tracked closely to that of Indiana. Institutions that include Berklee, Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music are not among the 627 NASM members. One non-NASM music school has a student enrollment larger than North Texas – Berklee.
    North Texas Indiana
    2006-07 1,649 1,638
    2007-08 1,659 1,633
    2008-09 1,608 1,554
    2009-10 1,635 1,557
  4. ^ A Comparative and Historical Survey of Four Seminal Figures in the History of Jazz Education, by Colin M. Mason (DMA dissertation), University of Texas at Austin (2005); OCLC 317632904
  5. ^ "Leon Breeden will receive an honorary doctorate from UNT on Aug. 14, 2009," by John Murphy, UNT Division of Jazz Studies, August 10, 2009
  6. ^ "Leon Breeden, The Man from Oklahoma ... ," by Bill Cherry, Texas Escapes Online Magazine, March 7, 2009
  7. ^ "Bonna Breeden: She's Happy as a Homemaker," by Thom Hunter, Denton Record-Chronicle, April 7, 1977, pg. 1C
  8. ^ Leon Breeden, Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame, Alpha Chapter, Phi Beta Mu
  9. ^ "Leon Breeden, former director of UNT jazz program, dies," Dallas Morning News (AP), August 12, 2010