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“Johnakins never recorded as a leader. Nor did he record much with major jazz and swing bands. Where he found his niche and admiration among jazz and Latin musicians was in Machito’s orchestra, starting in the late 1940s. Johnakins wasn’t alone. As jazz opportunities slowed in the late 1940s, quite a few East Coast jazz musicians took chairs in Latin bands, since these orchestras tended to book steady runs at dance clubs in the Bronx and Brooklyn as well as Manhattan. Latin dance bands also toured, and you were assured of summer work at resorts in the Catskill Mountains two hours north of New York. As the mambo heated up and was joined by the cha-cha-cha in the mid-1950s, jazz musicians remained with Latin bands for long stretches, especially those who could read and arrange the tricky arrangements with complex syncopated rhythms.

Johnakins anchored the reed section of Machito’s orchestra on recordings starting in 1948. He also was on Machito’s Charlie Parker sessions of 1950, played on Chico O’Farrill’s majestic Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite for Machito that same year and recorded on Machito’s Columbia sessions in 1952. From 1954 to 1957, Johnakins picked up R&B recording work, rejoining Machito in ’57 for Kenya (Roulette), one of Machito’s finest albums. He also appeared on Machito’s Fireworks release in 1977 and Live at North Sea ’82.Johnakins’ strength was providing Latin and R&B bands with a powerful, low tones on the baritone sax. His instrument’s “voice” was so strong that Johnakins could often be heard above Machito’s orchestra. Even during his busy years, too little is known about him.

Leslie Johnakins died in 2005.”