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The San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation Collection The Charles N. Huggins Project

Leon Oakley

Leon Oakley

LEON OAKLEY, cornet/trumpet

b. Carbondale, PA March, 1940

Leon studied trumpet while in his teens. A chance discovery of music scores in the school library written by Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong for small bands led him to a life-long love for traditional jazz.

After college in 1962, Leon was working as an electrical engineer at New York State Electric and Gas, where he made friends with fellow jazz lovers, who were part-time musicians and jazz record collectors. Included in this group was Jack Hockenberry, and together Jack and Leon formed an ensemble, using Turk Murphy recordings to guide their band book.

Leon Oakley

In 1968, Turk Murphy was performing in Corning, New York at a local country club where a mutual friend had invited Leon to be his guest. He took the opportunity to introduce Leon to Turk. Before the concert was over, Turk had invited Leon to sit in with the band for several tunes. A few short weeks later, Turk asked Leon to join his band in San Francisco. Leon was part of the Turk Murphy Jazz Band for eleven years, playing in Turk's club, Earthquake McGoon's, and participating in numerous concert tours throughout Europe, Australia, Japan, and all corners of the United States.

Today, Leon Oakley is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost traditional jazz cornetists. His playing contains the key ingredients for great performance in jazz—a deep understanding of the music and the cornet’s role in it, and an ability to bring huge enthusiasm and life to a jazz band with his lead playing and improvisational ability. He has attained the consummate mark of a jazzman, an instantly recognizable and individual style.

Mr. Oakley has served on the board of the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation for many years. His service, highlighted by his extensive knowledge of jazz history, and more specifically of jazz in the San Francisco tradition, has been invaluable.

He lives in Marin County across the Bay from San Francisco and continues to perform in the region and, from time to time, across the country and the world.