Leonard Gaskin Papers
This website started as a fairly simple and straightforward project: The collecting and collating of all known Percy France recordings. That goal became quite a bit bigger (and more expensive, and much more exciting) in November of 2019 when I learned about the Leonard Gaskin Papers, which had only recently been donated to the Smithsonian by his daughter, Poppy Gaskin. Because of the significance of the Gaskin Papers to this project, I feel that a brief sketch of Leonard's life and career is in order, and it is why I have placed to the right a photo of Leonard alone, taken in February 1982 in Barcelona, Spain, during the first European tour of the Oliver Jackson Trio featuring Percy France, later known as Le Quartet.
Born August 15, 1920 (exactly eight years before Percy France) in Brooklyn, Gaskin played piano before taking up the bass. Childhood friends included Randy Weston, Duke Jordan and Max Roach, and he was an important if under-recognized part of the burgeoning bebop scene at places like Monroe's Uptown House and Minton's Playhouse, playing with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Erroll Garner, Don Byas and many others.
The 1950s saw him continuing to freelance as well as playing Dixieland with Eddie Condon and Bob Wilber. By the 1960s he worked in the studios full time and recorded countless pop, R&B and gospel recordings, including The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.
In the 1970s he was involved with the International Art of Jazz, a group that brought jazz to schools around the New York Metropolitan area. He also toured Europe many times with Oliver Jackson, and gigged regularly in Manhattan with Sy Oliver.
Leonard Gaskin died January 24, 2009.
It is unknowable when he first met Percy France but Gaskin's determination to document his career activities has been an extraordinary blessing to this project. As shown in the sessionagraphy pages, his Papers contain dozens of recordings with Percy France. The recordings represent approximately 75% of known Percy France recordings, which is another way of saying that their discovery more than tripled the amount of known Percy France recordings (and there are many yet to be received from the Smithsonian). Were it not for the Gaskin Papers, we would have no inkling of the fact that, just as one example, organist Big John Patton played piano with Percy and Leonard at least once, in October 1988. Nor would we have so many photos of Percy France, both playing and relaxing, contained herein.
The Gaskin Papers also include documentation of countless recordings with other "underground" jazz legends, such as "Big" Nick Nicolas, Dave Burns and Ray Abrams. Hopefully other researchers will mine the Gaskin Papers for documentation of other artists who were much like Percy France: Under-appreciated but also great.
I would first like to thank all who contributed essays and remembrances to the website. The assistance of Allen Lowe, Hans Zurbrügg and Armin Büttner was crucial to the success of this project. James Sangrey, Larry Kart, Jack Woker, Jeff Crompton and Flürin Casura also provided important assistance. Kay Peterson and Franklin Robinson at the Archives Center, Smithsonian Institution have and continue to provide excellent assistance in this ongoing project. Sean Michael Muldoon provided much needed website expertise.
All photo credits are given when known.
Music excerpts hosted on this site were conceived to stay within the bounds of "Fair Use" doctrine; however any copyright holder is asked to use the contact page for any take-down requests.
Any errors are mine alone.
Photo credit: Leonard Gaskin Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution