Leon Breeden

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Leon Breeden
Birth nameHarold Leon Breeden
Born(1921-10-03)October 3, 1921
Guthrie, Oklahoma, U.S.
DiedAugust 11, 2010(2010-08-11) (aged 88)
Dallas, Texas
GenresJazz, classical
Occupation(s)Educator, musician, composer

Harold Leon Breeden (3 October 1921 – 11 August 2010) was a jazz educator and musician.


When he was three his parents moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, where he grew up and graduated from high school. He attended Texas Wesleyan College in Fort 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 Reginald Kell who had immigrated to the U.S. in 1948. Benny Goodman began studies with Kell in 1949.

Breeden used his given name "Harold" only while serving in the Army. During the early part of World War II, he served 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, 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 Texas Christian. He was a teaching assistant under Don Gillis, whom he worked with in New York City from 1950 to 1952 as his assistant.[1] He married Bonna Joyce McKee, whom he had met while working on his master's degree at Texas Christian.[2]

Gillis was producer of the NBC Symphony, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Breeden met with and wrote arrangements for Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops. Gillis recommended Breeden for work. In 1950, after hearing his first arrangements for the group, Fiedler offered Breeden a position as staff writer and arranger for the orchestra, but with an ill father, Breeden declined and moved back to Texas. He worked as music coordinator for KXAS-TV in Fort Worth, known at the time as WBAP-TV.

In the last several years of his life, Breeden frequently soloed on clarinet with The Official Texas Jazz Orchestra.[3]

Breeden died of natural causes on August 11, 2010, in Dallas.[4] The Associated Press release of Breeden's death referred to him as a legendary director who made the One O'Clock Lab Band internationally famous.[5][6]


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. 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[7] and the first in the world to offer a degree in jazz studies at the collegiate level.

Breeden took the One O'Clock Lab Band to London, Paris, Portugal, Russia, Mexico, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland. The band played throughout the U.S. and at the Spoleto Music Festival. The band performed at the White House for presidents Johnson, Carter, and Reagan and for the U.S. visit by the King and Queen of Thailand. The band has accompanied Ella Fitzgerald and has produced musicians for the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman bands. There are more than 600 recordings of the jazz band's performances in the North Texas School of Music archives.

His students included Dee Barton, Herb Ellis, Paul Guerrero, Galen Jeter, Marc Johnson, Bobby Knight, Sparky Koerner, Lou Marini, Lyle Mays, Byron Parks, Neal Ramsay, Jim Riggs, Marvin Stamm, and Lanny Steele.

Awards and honors[edit]

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
1976 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, 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 traveled from all parts of the world to 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 Dallas Jazz Orchestra produced an album honoring Breeden titled Thank You, Leon
2001 Texas Christian University gave 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[8]


General references

  • "Leon Breeden interview," Voice of America (1977); OCLC 21441228

Inline citations

  1. ^ A Comparative and Historical Survey of Four Seminal Figures in the History of Jazz Education, by Colin M. Mason (Doctor of Musical Arts dissertation), University of Texas at Austin (2005); OCLC 317632904
  2. ^ "Bonna Breeden: She's Happy as a Homemaker," by Thom Hunter, Denton Record-Chronicle, April 7, 1977, pg. 1C
  3. ^ "Leon Breeden, The Man from Oklahoma ... ," Archived 2009-03-21 at the Wayback Machine by Bill Cherry, Texas Escapes Online Magazine, March 7, 2009
  4. ^ "Leon Breeden, former director of UNT jazz program, dies," Dallas Morning News (Associated Press), August 12, 2010
  5. ^ "Jazz Educator Leon Breeden Dies at 88," The Associated Press, August 11, 2010
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ "Leon Breeden will receive an honorary doctorate from UNT on Aug. 14, 2009," Archived 2011-08-09 at the Wayback Machine by John Murphy, UNT Division of Jazz Studies, August 10, 2009