|Leon Brown Berry|
September 13, 1908|
Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S.
October 30, 1941 (aged 33)|
|Fletcher Henderson, Cab Calloway|
Leon Brown "Chu" Berry (September 13, 1908 - October 30, 1941) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist during the 1930s.
Berry was born in Wheeling, West Virginia. He graduated from Lincoln High School, in Wheeling, then attended West Virginia State College for three years. His sister Ann played piano. Berry became interested in music at an early age, playing alto saxophone, at first with local bands. He was inspired to take up the tenor saxophone after hearing Coleman Hawkins on tour.
Most of Berry's career was spent with swing bands: Sammy Stewart, 1929-1930, with whom he switched to tenor sax, Benny Carter, 1932-1933, Teddy Hill, 1933-1935, Fletcher Henderson, 1935-1937, Cab Calloway, his best-known affiliation, from 1937 to 1941.
Throughout his brief career, Berry was in demand as a sideman for recording sessions under the names of various other jazz artists, including Spike Hughes (1933), Bessie Smith (1933), the Chocolate Dandies (1933), Mildred Bailey (1935-1938), Teddy Wilson (1935-1938), Billie Holiday (1938-1939), Wingy Manone (1938-1939) and Lionel Hampton (1939).
During the period 1934-1939, while saxophone pioneer Hawkins was playing in Europe, Berry was one of several younger tenor saxophonists, such as Budd Johnson, Ben Webster and Lester Young who vied for supremacy on their instrument. Berry's mastery of advanced harmony and his smoothly-flowing solos on uptempo tunes influenced such young innovators as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. The latter named his first son Leon in Chu's honor.
"Christopher Columbus", which Berry composed with lyrics by Andy Razaf, was the last important hit recording of the Fletcher Henderson orchestra, recorded in 1936. It is one of the most popular riff tunes from the swing era. It was incorporated into Jimmy Mundy's arrangement of Sing, Sing, Sing for Benny Goodman's band. This was used as the final showstopper in Goodman's first Carnegie Hall jazz concert of January 16, 1938.
Four sessions were organized with Berry as leader, in 1937, 1938, and 1941.
Berry died on October 27, 1941 in Conneaut, Ohio, from a car accident.
Chu Berry is the unofficial name of a series of saxophones produced by the C.G. Conn company during the 1920s, though it is more accurate to refer to them as the Conn New Wonder Series II.
C.G. Conn never used the term "Chu Berry" to refer to any of their saxophones. Berry played a model of tenor sax generally known as the Conn Transitional  and is not known to have ever played a New Wonder Series II.
Some saxophone owners use the term "Chu Berry" in reference to any Conn saxophone made between 1910 and the mid-1930s, including soprano, alto, baritone and C melody saxophones, none of which Berry played.