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Mr. Leon Breeden(1921 - 2010)

Mr. Leon Breeden, a music pioneer who helped bring respectability to jazz studies and a former jazz studies director at the University of North Texas, died Wednesday in Dallas of natural causes. He was 88.

Under Mr. Breeden's leadership, a music revolution took place in 1968, said Ed Soph, a professor of jazz music at UNT.

That year, the University of North Texas' One O'Clock Lab Band performed at a national music educator's convention in Seattle. When the band finished, the group's board of directors was sold and jazz was included in music education allowing student to earn degrees.

"From then on Jazz education was a field of study," Soph said.

Friends and colleagues celebrated Mr. Breeden's life Thursday, describing him as a music pioneer. He was also praised for a teaching style that centered on combining jazz traditions with students' original compositions or arrangements.

"I will remember him for his committment to the students - the way he was able to balance the highest professional standards of performance and then he balanced that with a committment to their creative work,"said John Murphy, chairman of the division of jazz studies at UNT.

Mr. Breeden served as director of the One O'Clock Lab Band - the university's premier jazz ensemble - from 1959 to 1981. Soph, a drummer in the band from 1963 to 1968, said Mr. Breeden was an accomplished classical clarinetist and saxophonist. He also arranged music for the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Cleveland and Cincinnati orchestras.

But Mr. Breeden's big impact on jazz came when he settled in North Texas and spread his passion of the American-born music style to generations of young people.

During Mr. Breeden's tenure, the One O'Clock Lab Band performed all over the world; including at the White House in 1967. Mr. Breeden also started the band's tradition of recording an album every year. The band earned its first two Grammy nominations with Mr. Breeden at the helm. (It was the first university band nationwide to do so).

He also left a mark on generations of music students. Many of his students later blazed paths of their own; including Lou Marini and Tom Malone also known as "Blue Lou" and "Tom Bones Malone" of the Blue Brothers fame, and Lyle Mays of the Pat Metheny Group.

Funeral Services will be held Monday, Aug. 16, at 3 p.m. at Denton Bible Church, 2300 E. University Dr, Denton, Tx 76209. A burial will follow at Roselawn Memorial Park in Denton. Contributions in Leon Breeden's honor may be made to the Leon Breeden Music Scholarship or the Leon Breeden Jazz Trumpet Scholarship in care of the UNT College of Music Division of Jazz Studies, 1155 Union Circle.

Published in Star-Telegram on Aug. 12, 2010
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