Leonard Gaskin, Eddie South, Allen Tinney, 1947.

Leonard Gaskin, Eddie South, Allen Tinney, 1947.

The string bassist Leonard Gaskin (1920-2009) could and did play with anyone: from Forties bop small groups (including Bird, Miles, Max, Cecil Payne, J.J., and more), to Billie and Connee, to Louis Armstrong to Eddie Condon to pickup groups of all shapes and sizes.  Like Milt Hinton, he was steady, reliable, with a beautiful big sound that fit any ensemble: backing Odetta, Solomon Burke, Earl Hines, Butterbeans and Susie, as well as LaVern Baker, Cecil Scott, Ruby Braff, Kenny Burrell, young Bob Dylan, and Big Maybelle too.

Here is Peter Vacher’s characteristically fine obituary for Leonard.  (I’d like Peter to write mine, but we have yet to work out the details.)

And if you type in “Leonard Gaskin” on YouTube, you can hear more than two hundred performances.

Leonard was the nominal leader of a few “Dixieland” sessions for the Prestige label in 1961.  Another, led by trumpeter Sidney DeParis, was called DIXIELAND HITS COUNTRY AND WESTERN (draw the imagined cover for yourself) with Kenny Davern, Benny Morton, Charlie Queener, Lee Blair, Herbie Lovelle. . . . from whence this sly gem comes:

Here is a loving tribute to Leonard from the singer Seina — it will explain itself:

And since anything even remotely connected with Miles Davis is judged important by a large percentage of jazz listeners, I offer the very Lestorian FOR ADULTS ONLY from February 1953, with Al Cohn (tenor, arranger) Zoot Sims (tenor) John Lewis (piano) Leonard (bass) Kenny Clarke (drums):

and from another musical world, the 1950 poem in praise of awareness, from a Hot Lips Page date, where Lips and Leonard are joined by Jimmy Buxton (tb) Vincent Bair-Bey (as) Ray Abrams (ts) Earl Knight (p) Herbie Lovelle (d) Janie Mickens (vcl):

Now, why am I writing about Mr. Gaskin at this moment?

Sometimes I feel that the cosmos tells me, gently, what or whom to write about — people or artistic creations to celebrate.  I don’t say this as a great puff of ego, that the cosmos has JAZZ LIVES uppermost in its consciousness, but there is a reason for this post.


Recently, I was in one of my favorite thrift stores, Savers, and of course I wandered to the records.  Great quantities — wearying numbers — of the usual, and then I spotted the 1958 record above.  I’d owned it at one time: a Condon session with Rex Stewart, Herb Hall, Bud Freeman, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Leonard, and George Wettling, distinguished by a number of songs associated with the ODJB. (A completely uncredited Dick Cary is audible, and I am fairly sure he would have sketched out lead sheets and spare charts for the unfamiliar songs.) An interesting band, but not the apex of Fifties Condonia.

I debated: did I need this hot artifact.  Then I turned it over, and decided that I did, indeed.


I suspect that signature is later than 1958, but the real autographs are usually not in the most perfect calligraphy.  And, as always, when a record turns up at a thrift store, I wonder, “Did Grandpa have to move?  Did the folks’ turntable give out?  What’s the story?”

I won’t know, but it gently pushed me to celebrate Leonard Gaskin.

And for those who dote on detail, I’d donated some items to this Savers, and so the record was discounted: I think I paid seventy-two cents.  Too good to ignore.

May your happiness increase!

5 responses to “TO L.G.

  1. Don "Zoot" Conner

    Mr. Gaskin was a prolific and fine bassist, has it really been nine years since his death? And speaking of obits,I just got word of the passing of pianists Don Friedman,at 81 and one of my special favorites “Sir” Charles Thompson at 98.RIP all. Thanks for the posting, Michael.

  2. What a find! The cosmos is indeed nudging you in the right direction. (But we all knew that already)

  3. Charles Decker

    Thank you so much for your very knowledgeable and sensitive comments about Leonard Gaskin

    For the last year before he passed, Leonard became my first call for bass (Charlie Decker’s Hudson River Jazz Band and subsequently Charlie Decker’s Hudson River Jazz Band.

    Quite honestly I did not know Leonard’s history or bio. But within 2 minutes on the band stand, I couldn’t believe the lovely changes and progressions he would lead (with me as a rhythm guitarist by his side. I shook me head in disbelief and big smiles) So sublte and quiet but he could step it up when he decided to. And yes, when I googled his name, the history of his recordings and dates blew my mind. As you pointed out, it could be Joan Baez or Miles!

    Leonard played a date with us the night before he went in the hospital for surgery. He was a sweet man indeed and a world class musician. In my years, I have played with Milt Hinton and and and a number of occassions Major Holly and many others. Frank Tate is one of my current favorites and Bill Crow, Kelly Frisen (and I love the bass sax! and tuba!) I obviously love the bass line!

    To me, the bass player is the most important musician in the band. (or can be) I’m biased as my dad played stand up bass with a dance band in the 30’s)

    I am only sorry I did not meet Leonard earlier

    Thanks for putting the spot light on Leonard Gaskin

    Charlie Decker

  4. Don "Zoot" Conner

    Michael,thank’s for the Miles prestige recording,circa 1950.Back then Al Cohn’s soulful fill-ins were described as “Cohn’s Moans.”Miles became somewhat famous proclaiming “all them white cats sound alike,”Guess he wasn’t listening too closely.

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