April 18, 1925 – February 11, 1962
Leo Parker was the proud owner of a big, beefy baritone sax tone and a fluent technique that struck a great match between the gritty, down-home feeling of R&B and the advanced harmonies of bebop. At first, he studied alto in high school, even recording with Coleman Hawkins’ early bebop band at age 18 on that instrument in 1944. But upon joining the legendary Billy Eckstine bop band in 1944-45 and ’46, Parker switched to baritone and began to garner notice.
He worked with Dizzy Gillespie’s band on 52nd Street in 1946 and Illinois Jacquet’s group in 1947-48, and recorded with Fats Navarro, J.J. Johnson, Dexter Gordon and Sir Charles Thompson — scoring a hit with Thompson, “Mad Lad,” on the Apollo label. Parker seemed to be on his way, but drug problems — an epidemic in the bop community — kept interfering with his career, and he recorded only sporadically in the 1950s. In September and October 1961, Parker began a comeback on the Blue Note label with two lively albums that successfully combined his blues, gospel and bop backgrounds. But only a few months later, a heart attack felled him at the age of 36. — Richard S. Ginell, All-Music Guide