From the Heart of the Hood to the Pinnacle of Paris
by Steve Penn
When Leon Brady left Sumner High School in 1978, there should have been a major sendoff for someone of his stature. Yet, when Brady departed, there was no party, no ticker-tape parade, horns or even a tap on the drums. Just silence.
In just over three months on Nov. 4, Brady will turn 90-years old. Brady was born in New Orleans in 1932, during the heart of the depression era. To Brady, 90 is just a number. "It's just another day," Brady said recently. "I don't expect nothing big. I'm still me. I still believe in the things I've always believed in. This wasn't something I came up with all of a sudden. This is my life."
On August 14, 2022, steps will begin to properly honor Brady's life.
Brady, his former students, friends, and alumni will gather at Forest Grove Baptist Church, 1417 N. 9th Street in Kansas City, Kan. After the service, which begins around 10:30 a.m., a book signing will follow around 1:30 p.m. As author of the new book "From the Heart of the Hood to the Pinnacle of Paris," Brady and I promise to sign each book that day.
"From the Heart of the Hood to the Pinnacle of Paris" chronicles the amazing music program that Brady started at the former Sumner High School. The school's marching band performed in front of a national television TV audience in 1969 as it marched in the Sugar Bowl Parade in New Orleans. Brady's stage band even played the opening of drum roll for Arrowhead Stadium in 1972.
Sumner High School achieved a measure of black excellence during the summer of 1972 when it won an international jazz band competition in Paris, France. When the band returned, they record the album Sumner in Paris '72.
Now that Brady is finally receiving the attention he so richly deserves, he is grateful. "I appreciate people like you making it happen," Brady said recently. " I never thought it would open up as it's doing."
The plight of music director can have hills and valleys. Moments of adulation followed by pain. In 1978, Sumner High School transitioned from Sumner High School to Sumner Academy. In 2003, an incident escalated tension. During that summer the school's trophies and memorabilia were found behind the school in a nearby dumpster. The wares won lawfully by the school had been abandoned. Some were even burned. Even the trophies won by individual band members in Paris were destroyed.
The trophy won by Sumner Stage band abroad was allegedly mailed to the Kansas City, Kansas School District, who mailed them back to Paris. Needless to say, these actions are almost unforgivable. To this date, the trophy in question has never been recovered.
In this book, Brady said the incident left him angry and bitter. "It just upset me," Brady said. "I did the teaching. The students did the playing. It was the jazz band's trophy. I don't like to talk about it. I get so upset when I start talking about it."
Well, out of something bad has come something good. A new Sumner High School alumni room, named after the beloved Chester Owens, has been created at Sumner Academy. The room now contains much of the wares that Sumner earned over the years in areas of sport, academia, science and music.
This book also contains bios on the many working-class musicians Brady has spawned. The list of musicians Brady has taught include drummer John Cushon, who is married to the jazz singer Oleta Adams, pianist and trombonist Charles Williams, violinist Rosalyn Story and saxophonist Felicia Smith Safir.
Safir said the adulation for Brady is right on time.
"I feel relieved and happy for him," Safir said. "He is one of the greatest educators they have had in the entire greater Kansas Cityarea. He exposed students to New Orleans. These were kids that had never been out of Kansas City. For the students to have been on a college campus was wonderful. That type of exposure was tremendous."
Brady as an artist has played with the greats. His best buddy was the late bebop trumpet player Clark Terry. Brady played with singer Marilyn Maye for many years. He also has gigged with the late Claude "Fiddler" Williams and Jay McShann.
If you know Brady like I know Brady, music is the oxygen he breathes. It's the reason why he gets up each day. He still believes that he has more to teach the younger generation. Brady has had an amazing life. And his fans and former students can read all about in "From the Heart of the Hood to the Pinnacle of Paris."
To find more and to order the book and CD, go to pennbooks.com.