Leo Parker was born on April 18, 1925 in Washington D.C. and is generally regarded as one of the most important and earliest bebop baritone saxophone players. Leo started out his music career on the alto saxophone, but switched over quickly to the baritone saxophone while in the Billy Eckstine Big Band. During his very brief recording career, Leo recorded with Coleman Hawkins, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Illinois Jacquet, Fats Navarro, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, J.J. Johnson, Sir Charles Thompson, Russell Jacquet and Bill Jennings.
Leo’s approach was the complete antithesis to baritone players like Lars Gullin or Gerry Mulligan. Parker could play with a fierce, throaty baritone sound, but also play gorgeous ballads, like his rendition of Solitude. What made Leo’s sound and style so attractive to me, and generations of baritone players, is he incorporated the best elements of swing, blues and bebop. Sadly, Leo left us in 1962, at the age of 36 years old. My hope is that as time marches on, more of his story will be told.
I plan to include a few of Leo’s solo transcriptions from his two Blue Note records, Let Me Tell You ‘Bout It and Rollin’ With Leo. These are landmark albums for baritone players that were recorded a month apart in September and October 1961. Let Me Tell You ‘Bout it was released in 1962, but Rollin’ with Leo sat in the Blue Note vaults until 1981 when it was released on the LT Series. Blue Note had very few baritone led sessions and these sessions rank up there with the Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams recordings.
A complete Leo Parker discography appears at the end of Vladimir Simosko’s pioneering book, Serge Chaloff: A Musical Biography and Discography printed in 1998.