Born in Chicago, composer and violinist Leroy Jenkins was one of the most important musicians to emerge from the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), the legendary collective of which he was a member until his death in 2007. Like many of the Association's members, Jenkins studied under the legendary Walter Dyett at DuSable High School, where he learned the alto saxophone.
He received a music degree (in violin) from Florida A&M University, where he studied composition and the classical masters of the violin. Subsequently, he taught music both in Mobile, Alabama (1961-5) and in the Chicago schools (1965-9). During the latter period, Jenkins joined the AACM. He made his first recording with Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, and Leo Smith in the sixties before achieving international acclaim in Paris along with Braxton, Smith, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In 1970 Jenkins moved to New York, where he founded the Revolutionary Ensemble, the critically acclaimed ensemble which recorded 7 albums and toured North America and Europe.
When many of the AACM musicians left during 1969, Jenkins went to Europe with Anthony Braxton & Leo Smith. There, with drummer Steve McCall, they were called the Creative Construction Company. He also played with Ornette Coleman, whose house he & Braxton stayed at when they subsequently moved to New York City.
Playing with Taylor (1970) and Braxton (1969-72), he also worked with Albert Ayler, Cal Massey, Alice Coltrane, Archie Shepp & Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Between 1971-7, he played in his Revolutionary Ensemble, a trio featuring Sirone (Norris Jones) on bass & trombone, and drummer/pianist Jerome Cooper. Thereafter, he toured the US & Europe, led the Mixed Quintet (Jenkins and 4 woodwind players), a blues-based band called Sting, and again played with Cecil Taylor.
Jenkins continually reinvented his own language in music. His was an extraordinary bonding of a variety of sounds associated with the black music tradition, while simultaneously bridging with European styles. His intermeshing of jazz and classical influences left critics wondering at his musical identity; however, as one San Francisco Chronicle critic said, "Jenkins is a master who cuts across all categories."
Jenkins received a number of major commissions and was in demand for experimental and theater-based work. Mother of Three Sons, a dance-opera collaboration with Bill T. Jones, premiered in Aachaen, Germany and had ten performances. The Rockefeller Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, and Mutable Music awarded him numerous commissioning funds and grants to support several new theater works. Among them are Fresh Faust (a jazz-rap opera), which was performed in workshops in Boston at the Institute of Contemporary Arts; The Negro Burial Ground (a cantata), performed at The Kitchen, New York City; and The Three Willies (a multimedia opera), performed at the Painted Bride, Philadelphia. He was also commissioned to create new works for the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, the Albany Symphony, the Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and the Kronos Quartet.
Among his recordings are 3 Compositions of New Jazz (1968; Delmark); Lifelong Ambitions (1977; Black Saint; with Muhal Richard Abrams); Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival America (1978; Tomato); Live (1992, Black Saint); Carla Bley's Escalator Over The Hill and Braxton's Three Compositions Of New Jazz.
Leroy Jenkins died on February 24, 2007, in Brooklyn, NY.