Former Jazz Historian for the New England Jazz Alliance, and known by virtually everyone in the jazz world, Leo Curran was intimately connected to the international jazz scene.
The son of John F. Curran and Mary (Ross) Curran, Leo was born on March 10, 1927 in Milford MA, where he lived until his death. He had been a jazz lover since his youth and credited Lester Young and Henry “Boots” Mussulli as his greatest influences.
Leo studied tenor saxophone and clarinet with the legendary Milford native Boots Mussulli. Eventually, Leo began playing local gigs until he entered the Navy in 1944 at the age of 17. After serving two years with the Navy, he returned to Milford. Although he did not continue to play professionally at that time, he remained extremely enthusiastic about jazz and was a great supporter of the music. In fact, many of his best friends were professional jazz players.
In 1948, the Stan Kenton Orchestra performed at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium in Worcester, MA. After attending this program, Leo went back stage to visit with his good friend and Milford native, George Morte who was working with Kenton at the time. Through Morte, the Kenton Orchestra hired Leo Curran as “band boy” for a three month tour. The Kenton Band, with Leo Curran, left the very next day!
Curran described his band boy position as actually being a “go-for” for band members, readying band “stage set ups”, positioning music stands and assigning clean uniforms for each performance. At the end of the three month tour, Kenton himself asked Leo to stay on, this time in the much more prestigious role of “road manager” for the orchestra. This highly responsible position required Leo to set travel routes, arrange hotel accommodations, oversee band personnel and deal with all areas of band finances.
Leo Curran remained with the Stan Kenton Orchestra until 1955. He returned to Milford to start his own business hoping to assure financial stability for his family.
Leo Curran and his good friend (and former teacher) Boots Mussulli took a great deal of interest in helping the next generation of young jazz players. In 1965, they formed the Milford Youth Orchestra, under the musical direction of Boots Mussulli and the organizational direction of Leo Curran. Due to their example of selfless commitment to this group, every student took their role very seriously. Many, many professional jazz musicians from the New England area credit the Milford Youth Orchestra, Leo Curran and Boots Mussulli with imparting to them the discipline necessary to achieve their highest musical goals and instilling in them a life-long love of jazz music. So good was this youth group that they actually performed at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival. Their high performance level and overall musicality astounded both audiences and professional players alike. (A 1967 audio performance may be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdhR4BSS5lM )
Leo Curran continued giving to the jazz world through the generous contribution of his personal time and the donation of historically significant materials to the New England Jazz Alliance. His continued contact with musicians from all over the world brought a steady stream of current news to New England based artists. He was dedicated to the preservation of the personal histories of jazz musicians and their unique contributions to the world of art music.
Leo was an incredible jazz research resource (with an amazing memory for detail) and a wonderfully gifted storyteller!
For more on Leo Curran visit the New England Jazz Alliance Hall of Fame: