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Remembering Leon Breeden

Remembering Leon Breeden

Welcome to the Leon Breeden Remembrance Page. Visitors have shared their thoughts, memories and stories as we have all come together to celebrate this great life.

Thank You Dr. Breeden

There are very few people who qualify as being a hero. Leon Breeden is certainly one of those. Thanks in large part to his tireless efforts, jazz as an accepted field of study and pedagogy exists as we know it today. He was a major player in a generation that pioneered all that we know now as Jazz Studies.

One of my favorite descriptions of what he accomplished is that he "built the One O'Clock Lab Band up to near-mythic status." He certainly was the volcano that brought North Texas to international prominence. While I never had the honor of being under his direction before he retired, I did work with him a number of times after that. I was always impressed with the warm family-like atmosphere that he brought to everything. I think he was the type of person that inspired all those around him to want to achieve their absolute best. What a gift to everyone who knew him.

I look forward to hearing all the many great stories from all of you who knew him best. And to Leon I offer up one of my favorite quotes: (Gil Evans once said this of Miles Davis) "I sure am glad you were born!"

Thank you so very much Dr. Leon Breeden.

Steve Wiest

Thank you, Leon

I last saw Leon on June 25 of this year. Bill Mays, Ed Soph, John Adams, and I had just played a concert at Bert Truax's Trumpet Camp, and Leon attended the concert. Richard Cox, Leon's angel, (thank you for all you and your wife did, Richard) brought Leon to the concert and then to the reception given for us afterwards at Doug and Karen Sisler's home, and we had the chance to spend a lot of one-on-one time visiting with him. Everyone else at the reception took time visiting with him as well. It was obvious that this made Leon feel great! It was a really nice occasion for all of us to see and visit with him. Leon always said that Ed Soph gave him all the gray hair on one side of his head, and I gave him all the gray hair on the other side. This was an especially nice opportunity for Ed and me to have the time with Leon. 
All of us know the many tragedies Leon suffered in his life, but he never let them deter him from his mission at UNT--The One O'Clock Lab Band. He truly put the band, the program, and so many of us on the map and got us out there in the public eye. Leon gave all of us opportunities that we might never have had if it wasn't for his efforts. I often wonder how different my career would have been if I hadn't been part of the Leon Breeden North Texas experience of that time. I'm sure it all would have been quite different if it were not for Leon.
"Thank you, Leon!" 
With Love,

Leon Breeden Day in Texas resolution

I still recall the 1973 graduate class I took that Leon Breeden conducted. It was my honor to have written the "Leon Breeden Day in Texas" resolution passed by the Texas House of Representatives; it was published on the front page of the Denton Record-Chronicle and presented to him that day by the local State Rep. to honor his last performance conducting the One O'Clock Lab Band that day in Denton!

Thank you, Leon

Dr. Leon Breeden was the ultimate educator, performer, organizer and showman.  Almost everything I know about jazz education and directing lab bands is a result of his mentoring.  I was fortunate to have been selected by Leon to play lead alto in his band for two years 1974-1976 and recorded the two Grammy nominated albums and toured the Soviet Union.

These experiences and the daily improvement of my abilities through being surrounded by some of the world's greatest performers helped me start my career as a performer, but it was the daily example that Leon Breeden set that influenced me to steer my career toward education.   Having taught classes, and served as the music coordinator for Cedar Valley College for the past 33 years, I use techniques that Leon taught me everyday on the job and thank him for everything that he did for me and the thousands of other musicians that passed through the program.   His patience was legendary and he handled challenging situations with great professionalism.   The Doctorate ceremony was long overdue and very well deserved and I enjoyed speaking with Leon that night.   Leon, rest in peace. --Roger Dismore

Leon Breeden

I am saddened with the news of Leon’s passing. His contributions to music education are vast and without peer. The legacy of his work is being written a thousand times a day through his students. The story is in it’s first chapter with volumes to follow. Those of us who played in the NT jazz program in the Leon era breathe the energy and vitality he possessed. His passion is infused in our playing, writing and performance. His caring attitude and love for his students was always delivered with the strong hand of a father wanting the best for his child. 

Leon, your hand is securely resting here with me and all the others you’ve touched. Rest in peace and love.-Dan HigginsNTSU 1974-1977

Mourning a Jazz Visionary

The music world should be in mourning with the passing of Leon Breeden. His dedication and passion did for jazz education what Louis Armstrong did for the trumpet, what Ella Fitzgerald did for jazz vocalists, and what Miles Davis did for bebop. Long live his image. R.I.P. Leon Breeden Jazz Education Visionary.  Royce Nowell NTSU 1974-78

That grin

While others have, and will continue I'm sure, to lionize Dr. Breeden, I'd like to share one of my favorite memories of him. It was my very first semester at NTSU, when, as a young bari sax player, I was sitting in Kenton Hall as the One O'Clock band began to assemble for its daily rehearsal. Of course, I was excited to hear this band in action up close and personal and was busy trying to identify the players as they came in. One by one they all took their places on the bandstand, except for a single empty chair. After several minutes had passed and the chair's occupant had not arrived, Dr. Breeden turned to the audience and said, "Is there a bari sax player in the house?" I immediately raised my hand and Breeden said "Well, go get your horn."

I flew out of my chair, up the stairs, and out of the building - and ran the four blocks back to my dorm, Clark Hall, up three flights of stairs to my room and got my horn. So far so good. However, adrenaline only goes so far, and the matter of running back across campus  - with a large hardshell wooden bari sax case in one hand - was still before me. I was able to manange about a block at a time, but I made it back to Kenton Hall and the band was running through a tune when I arrived.

I hurriedly unpacked and assembled my horn, sweaty and shaking from exhaustion and the awareness that I was about to sit in with the One O'Clock(!). As I finally managed to get my reed on the mouthpiece and the ligature tightened, the band came to the final chord of the chart. Breeden looked over at me with a look of "Well, what are you waiting for?" and, forgetting to even look at the chart, I played a note. Thank God in Heaven it was the right note! My low D. And that's when I saw it.

Leon crossed his arms across his chest and threw his head back with a huge grin on his face, and I knew from then on that I would be OK at NTSU. I had passed a test of some sort. I wasn't sure what exactly, but I had passed. I finished out the rehearsal and afterwards, Leon came over and thanked me for volunteering. I'm not sure my feet touched the ground on the way back to my dorm.

It would be several years before I could claim that chair as my own, under Neil Slater's direction, but I'll never forget the first time I sat in it. -- Paul Baker NTSU 1978-82

No place to hide

It was my first week in the One O'Clock and we were still in the audtioning phase (as a band).  I'll never forget playing an A natural instead of an A flat on a background note during a ballad.  I figured no one heard it or knew where the problem came from.  However, the minute I played it Leon breeden looked up over his glasses right at me and gave me the stare.  My first thought was that it had been a fun week in the band!  Then I realized that I was in the presence of greatness.  One glance from those eyes raised my playing level because I knew he heard everything!  It was my introduction to the greatness of the man.

I'm still trying to comprehend the sacrifices he made in life for the sake of his family, his students, and for jazz education.  Leon Breeden was one of the greatest people I have ever known as a musician/educator and as a human being.  His life was about serving others and about preserving jazz education.

I told him that we all loved him a few minutes before he died, and in those same eyes I saw that he loved us, too.  His life showed that throughout.    Bill Collins III



I did not know my own feelings about Leon until I heard he died.

I went to NT to learn about jazz.  Since I was mainly a classical musician it took a long time to make the transition.  NT was the only school at that time one could get an education in jazz, classical music and music ed. all at the same time.  What I did not know was I wasn't set out to be a teacher, but a performer, composer and innovator.


Leon had such a strong personality and had a vision for the lab bands.  It was so organized how he set up the bands, auditions, and placement.  I finally found a place were I could learn what I wanted too and had the time to do it.  I was very shy about a lot of things and did not understand my own abilities.  But this is why we go to school.  I came down to Denton with two friends, Jim Robak and Don Erdman.  


Leon had such inner strength which is something I just realized how it effected me.  We wrote letters and I sent him my lps I made and he put them up on the bulletin board and wrote a short note.  Just reading that letter (1958) makes it clear how Leon thought about the development of jazz programs that music wasn't a competition, but was an art to enjoy and understand.  I find in NYC it is more about who you know and competition than music.  Leon did not like NY for that reason I believe.  His standards were higher than that.  


I was so lucky to know him and I just realized how much he affected me.  Thank You Leon


So few people really work for music, most just work for selfish interest.  Leon was certainly not one of those people, but what we call

a hero.  Yes a hero.


The big bands have lost their economic power and are just a token part of the music business.  I see on Facebook all the time, duos, trios, and not even quartets anymore.  The piano players and guitar players take all the gigs from horn players.  


I would hope the future of the lab band system would concentrate on expanding the working opportunities, like Leon was trying to expand the development of the lab band opportunities for a musical event and not a competition in his 1958 letter.  I am a horn player so it is hard for me to accept the conditions of our present system.


I was in the 65-66 one-O'clock band. I believe.  I remember Leon standing right over me while conducting the band, Because I wanted to graduate on time I had to drop out of it the next semester to take some required classes.  Leon was upset with me about this.  Sorry Leon!  Anyway, we all loved you Leon as far as I know.


Sincerely, Greg Henry Waters<span> http://www.greghenrywaters.com/</span>


Here is what I wrote on my Facebook page.


I remember playing for Leon in his office the Debussy clarinet concerto. I did not know he played clarinet. I kept in touch with him through the years. He wrote me several long letters. He had a great ability for administration and I always wondered why he didn't perform more. His son played clarinet and died a number of years ago. Leon had his life all together that is for sure. He did not like the NY music scene. So moved back to Texas. I will miss him and his warmth and love of music. I remember being in his house in Denton and the guest there was Johnny Richards, the arranger composer. We all loved you Leon. A truly solid man!

The Salad Bar Conversation

The Salad Bar Conversation


  Through the years, from about 1969 on, I’d had many chances to talk to Leon Breeden but as he was a very important and busy man, I only stood next to Bill while they talked.  When Bill and I were in school at NTSU in the 70’s, I never had an opportunity to actually speak with Leon Breeden.  But I noticed that he rarely made eye contact with me, so trepidation to speak overtook me -- quite often!   


  However, in the late 80’s, at a dinner in the Silver Eagle Suite, I realized that I was walking through the buffet line…next to Mr. Breeden.  Out of respect, I realized that I should introduce myself since it had been several years since I had seen him.  I was surprised that he knew who I was, since I wasn’t a musician…just the wife of one. 


  As we walked through the buffet line, we talked about our families.  He took out his wallet and showed me a picture of his grandmother.  It was one of those well-worn photographs which had obviously been handled many times. The kind that feels like your favorite shirt, thread-bare and soft, and fragile.  He told me that a day never passed that he didn’t feel his grandmother’s presence with him.  More words were exchanged, but I don’t recall them. While we didn’t make eye contact as we served our plates, I realized that I had received a glimpse into this man’s heart.


  A friendship developed over the years and since I couldn’t “jazz speak” with Bill and Dr. Breeden, he would always ask about my family when there was a jazz lull. He would give us updates on musicians, friends, and their families.


  I really hope that everyone knows how much he loved all of you who were a part of his life. All of the people who are expressing their gratitude, respect, and admiration of him hopefully know that those thoughts were mirrored. While he didn’t need to “parent” anyone, he was proud of how your lives unfolded.  You were all part of his life, and you, also, were given a glimpse into his heart.  I, for one, will miss being in his presence.


Susan “Bill’s wife” Collins

Memorable moments

I first met Mr. Breeden at a National Stage Band Camp in 1964 during the summer before my senior year in high school. I was fortunate to play in the band he directed, but I never knew whether he remembered me when I matriculated as a freshman music major at NTSU in the fall of 1965.  Over the ensuing years, however, Mr. Breeden never failed to remember my name, hometown, and the title of my chart from "Lab '69."  Whenever I had occasion to greet him, Mr. Breeden would say, "Cal Lewiston, Alpine California, 'Hairy Brouhaha!'"  Needless to say, that always made me feel special, though I realized that it was his way of recalling all of the many aspiring musicians he taught in his tenure as the Director of the One O'Clock Lab Band.  That's but one small example of the caring, mentoring way that Mr. Breeden went about the business of teaching, promoting, and presenting the highest levels of musicianship and professionalism in the creation and performance of the uniquely American musical idiom of big band jazz.  I owe the many memorable experiences I've enjoyed in attempting to meet that standard to Mr. Breeden's commitment and dedication to his work, his students, and his art.

Thank you Leon

From an early age I knew music was to be my life. I always sought the best teachers I could find that would take me as a student. During my life I found only four that I would consider as my mentors - Donald S. Reinhardt, Renold Schilke, Billy Byers and Leon Breeden. As I progressed along my musical road each one gave me the guidance I was seeking to fulfill my quest. Each one had his own message and way of doing things but they all professed a common thread - be true to yourself, your values and never accept second best. Although many of Leon's students weren't aware of this philosophy it was this high standard that he imparted into their lives with his jazz program and the UNT one o'clock band. Many one o'clock rehearsals were delegated to the sight reading of new music. His lesson - get it right the first time and you won't have to do it again. This lesson was not fully realized until I worked the studios of LA. I could continue for hours about all the wonderful things this man did for so many but I will leave with this one thought -  Thank you Dr. Breeden! It is an HONOR to be one of your students.

Dave Oyler - 1969


Part of his family...

Although I was never a North Texas alum, I might as well have been, as far as Dr. Breeden was concerned.

In 1972, two big band charts I wrote originally for the big band Lou Marini and Joe Randazzo had Monday nights at the now-defunct Villager Club in Dallas were chosen by him to be recorded by the the 1:00 Lab Band for Silver Anniversary double-LP set. I was even invited to oversee the mix for one of the tunes ("Amazing Bayou Slim"). It was one of two huge career boosts I received that year.

Years later, Leon made a point of telling me that the band played "Amazing Bayou Slim" at concerts during the tour of the Soviet Union-and that it always got a terrific audience response.

I had many wonderful long phone conversations with this great man over the last 20 years, in addition to some letters from him which I'll probably keep forever. He was most supportive and encouraging, and I'll never forget it.  He and Bennye Wayne came to several gigs in Dallas I performed with my vocalist wife, the late Genie Grant. He and I even played a few tunes together!

His greatness as musician, educator and a prime mover in jazz education are legendary. But I have only known a few people in the music business who might qualify for sainthood-and Leon is certainly near the top of the list! If I had my life to live over, one of my wishes would be to have been one of his students. His friendship, encouragement and generosity are among the greatest gifts I've received in my lifetime.

And his life and work will be celebrated for years to come.

Dave Zoller

Wonderful sense of humor, thanks Leon


I spent five years with Leon, working for him in the Lab Band office, and traveling with him and the band, to Mexico, Washington DC, twice, and other places on the East Coast, as well as concerts and festivals in Texas. I was with him during personal tragedy and illness. It's very hard to boil all that down to a couple of short paragraphs.


Leon and Bonna always treated me like family. The atmosphere in his office, at the time, was like being in the center of tornado, with telephone calls and correspondence coming in, with offers and proposals for appearances all over the country, members of the bands marching in, wanting to know why they couldn't go the the Noter Dame Jazz Festival, or some other contest (the band had gone in the early sixties, before most of us had come to school.)  New music coming in, needing to be prepared for use and achieving. With all of this happening everyday, Leon handled everything with diplomacy and his wonderful sense of humor.


I came to Leon, just as a music copyist, and left, better prepared for the real world, that followed


Joel Sears 1963-68


Thank you Mr. Breeden

I was blessed to have been a part of the One O'clock band for 7 semesters from Spring of 1975 to the spring of 1978. The friendships that were made during my time in the band have been a cornerstone of my professional career in the DFW area. The pursuit of excellence that Mr. Breeden instilled in the students cannot be overstated. Jim Scaggari  told me that I would never be in a better band. I didn't realize the depth of Scagg's statement until years later. Even with all of the sight reading that we did, that band was the best rehearsed band that I've ever been a part of in my performing career. The attention to detail and nuance of the ensemble playing was taught by all of the jazz faculty. Mr. Breeden was orchestrating a whole department toward the same goal of excellence. Just ok, was not acceptible. Mr. Breeden we will all be forever grateful.

Thank you Dr. Breeden

By the time I got to NT for grad work in 1984, Leon had retired, of course.

But, my exposure to the One O'Clock bands around 1975-80 when in Junior High & High School was in large part responsible for my choices regarding a career in music.

My contact with Dr. Breeden while at NT was sporadic, but memorable. He was a superb example of a musician and human being.

Thanks for the inspiration, Dr. Breeden. I've never forgotten it!

Todd Davidson, 1984-87

Thank You Leon

 The existing accolades speak eloquently to the life well-lived by Leon Breeden.  His role in putting that, "dusty little Texas town" on the music map speaks for itself.  I was privileged to be a part of the One O'clock tour to Portugal and the Soviet Union in 1976.  The very best part of that experience for me was to have a few moments on buses, planes, or trains, to speak with Leon one on one.  I was struck by the fact that he was much more interested in talking about family than music; mine and his.  Years later, after Leon's retirement, when I was the director of a jazz program and had a festival to manage, I twice invited Leon to serve as a clinician.  He graciously declined.  I'll never forget the phone call when he told me about being away from his family much too frequently throughout his career.  In retirement, he said, he figured this was his opportunity to make some of that up to his wife and disabled daughter.  He taught me an awful lot, and some of it was about music!


I was an international student at UNT during the schoolyear 1983/1984.Leon Breeden taught us the course of Jazz forms.I think Neil asked him to do so,after he retired and was not directing the one anymore.

Coming from another country ,being a student,in his class i directly had a good feeling.

In Belgium i knew not many but a few wonderful teachers and musicians who were always ready to give us excellent advice and did so many things for us being music students.I still thank them every day, being myself now teacher at the Antwerp art high school.

Leon was one of those wounderful teachers and musician.

Far away from home,i felt encouraged to become true musician and human being.

Thank you Leon,thank you every day....

Irvin Defays




One of a Kind

Leon Breeden will always be remembered as a dedicated man who unselfishly shared his talents to others. The inspiration he has radiated to his students will forveber be remembered.

Thank you Leon for everything!

thank you

As my friend Tony Kellerman says, Lon Breeden will always be rememberd for all teh good deeds he has shared with us. We will definitely miss him!


I hardly know what to say Leon except thank you. When I first arrived at NTSU, a wide eyed boy from Northwest Florida,I was completely floored by the amount of big band jazz and all of it great! Talk about immersion! I thought I had died and arrived in musical heaven. It was such an incredible experience. You had presented to all of us a format for creating/playing music and a goal to be the best for art's sake. What a privilege to have know you and been under your tutelage. God's speed to you and thanks again.

Harold Garrett

Thanks For the Memory

I went to NTSU from 1972-1974. The most memorable class I took (I was a chemistry major) was a Jazz appreciation class  taught by Leon Breeden. I have never forgotten his absolute command of the Jazz repertoire and I learned so much in such a short time. I am so glad that I was able to be around him and learn from him. Rest in peace Mr. Breeden.

Thanks for the wonderful post

Thanks for the wonderful post