The Troy Street Observer

Sam Parkins and the Excalibur Jazz Band

Leroy Parkins, who usually went by “Sam,” was a musical wonder, and if a character with a more varied resume shows up on this blog, I’ll be surprised. Born in Boston on September 23, 1926, his claim to fame in this post is his Excalibur Jazz Band. But Parkins played with bop with Dick Twardzik, R&B with Sam Rivers, mainstream swing with Dave Frishberg, and trad with Danny Barker. Sam played in every musical setting imaginable over a career that stretched across six decades.

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The Excalibur Jazz Band at the Savoy Cafe, 1955

Parkins was still playing at the time of his death in 2009. But in music circles he’s probably better known for his work from the 1960s into the 1990s as a producer and recording engineer. He  recorded both jazz and classical music, for which he was nominated for four Grammy awards. Along the way Parkins was also a composer of film music, piano sonatas, choral works, electronic music, and chamber jazz.

Leroy Parkins—I’m still not sure where the “Sam” came from—entered the New England Conservatory in fall 1950. While he worked steadily on his masters in composition, he played Dixieland at the Log Cabin in Dedham, R&B in the sailors’ joints, and polite dance music for debutantes in society bands. He continued this practice long after his Boston days. In 1953, he continued his musical mixing-and-matching by playing bop at the Melody Lounge with Dick Wetmore and Al Walcott, but he stopped playing modern in order to indulge his growing interest in traditional jazz.

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