Leslie Sheffield Sr., jazz pianist, composer and arranger, was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on June 11, 1910. He taught himself to play piano out of his mother’s hymn book. Muskogee was home to many pianists; as a child, Sheffield would sit on doorsteps and listen to them play.
He learned from Gaston Sanders and began to study trombone, then tried the sousaphone. Inspired, Sheffield met pianist, organist and writer Jesse Stone, who came to Muskogee as a music educator and taught Sheffield to read and write music.
Because of his education with Stone and his work with bandleader Alphonso Trent, Leslie eventually took over the Alphonso Trent Band. As one of Oklahoma’s jazz pioneers, Sheffield went on to play the East Coast with such notables as Snub Mosley, Oran “Hot Lips” Page, Buster Smith, Walter Pages, Count Basie, and Bennie Moten.
He also fronted the Rhythmaires Band, which featured guitarist Charlie Christian. When Christian left the band to play with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, he took with him many original tunes that Leslie Sheffield had written and performed with his own band, in particular “Flying Home.” Sheffield stated that two of his greatest moments were meeting and jamming with Fats Waller and Art Tatum.