Leroy Jenkins (1932-2007) thought outside the grand staff and turned the violin into an avant-garde vehicle for free Jazz. Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Jenkins started playing the violin at age 7 at one of the city’s largest churches, accompanied by a young Dinah Washington on piano.
By high school, Leroy added the saxophone to his repertoire before attending Florida A & M University on a bassoon scholarship. It was there that he played the clarinet and saxophone, and of course the bassoon, before returning to studying the violin.
Post-graduation, Jenkins taught violin in Mobile, Alabama for four years and later returned to Chicago. He pushed the musical envelope early on in his career, joining various collectives and ensembles who melded facets of free-form Jazz and more traditional, familiar musical elements, such as the stringed instrument he so expertly played—the violin. This innovative energy defined his career even as he became a bandleader and wrote music for classical ensembles.
Toward the end of his career, Jenkins collaborated with creatives of his caliber on a cantata, a Jazz-Hip-Hop opera, and a multimedia opera. Described perfectly by the New York Times, Leroy Jenkins “worked on and around the lines between jazz and classical music.”