Author Archive

Harland Leonard & His Rockets – 400 Swing

Written by Holy Lindy Land. Posted in שיר השבוע

For this song of the week, let's introduce one of the "name" bands, Kansas City's Harlan Leonard & His Rockets. Harlan Leonard…there's not much available of this band…We'll explain further on why.

Harlan Leonard ( 1905 – 1983) began his career at the age of 17 in Benny Moten's Orchestra in 1923. In 1931, Leonard and trombonist Thamon Hayes left the Moten band and formed the Thamon Hayes Band.

Hayes, Leonard and Jesse Stone rehearsed the band rigorously, biding their time until the annual spring battle of the bands at Paseo Hall in May of 1932. There, decked out in "brown Eaton suits," the the Thamon Hayes "Wonder" Band defeated the Moten band in a grudge match. As a result of their defeat, a fist fight broke out among members of the vanquished Moten band ! That must have been a "hot" battle 😉

Interesting fact as well, Charlie Parker played in this band for five weeks, but was fired by Leonard for lack of discipline… Leonard and the Rockets relocated to Los Angeles in 1942. The Rockets disbanded in 1945 and Leonard went to work as a civil servant at the Post Office and the Internal Revenue Service. That was the end of his professional music career.

Also interesting…Harlan Leonard and His Rockets had a lengthy engagement at Harlem's "Golden Gate Ballroom". A huge luxurious ballroom that programmed "name" bands, white and colored. People thought "the one million dollar" ballroom would never be able to compete with the famous and popular Savoy Ballroom, but as they booked "name" bands, and the Savoy sticked mostly to their "house" bands, they forced Savoy to book new bands as well. As the competition between Golden Gate and Savoy grew keener, Golden Gate offered two and at one time three bands at normal cost…But that didn't help…due to the very high costs that Golden Gate Ballroom made in this competition, they were forced to be taken over, by…Charles Buchanan and Moe Gale…owners of…Savoy 🙂 Their plan was to make Lenox Avenue 140 – 142 the American Dance Center.

We posted a picture of the vinyl we have of Harlan Leonard…400 Swing is one of the many great songs on that.