Leonard Plato Bolden, 77, jazz pianist

May 29, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Leonard Plato Bolden, a jazz pianist who performed under his middle name, died of cardiac arrest May 22 at Union Memorial Hospital. He was 77 and had lived on Madison Avenue.

For more than 30 years, from the 1940s through the 1970s, Plato Bolden worked the theaters, clubs and lounges in West and Northwest Baltimore.

Though he accompanied many entertainment legends of that period, there were many nights when he also entertained the Baltimoreans who stopped in for a drink.

"He was a fixture along Pennsylvania Avenue," said Tracy McCleary, who for many years led the orchestra at the Royal Theatre. "He was a versatile musician and a nice guy, too. In his day he played at the finest club in the neighborhood, the Astoria."

Plato Bolden, who was known for his infectious style of piano playing, performed at the Astoria, at 1313 Edmondson Ave., in the 1950s and 1960s.

He had an easy smile that he flashed to his audience and to other performers.

Best known for his piano playing, he also played the drums, saxophone, clarinet and organ. He was often part of a trio or quartet called Plato's Pals.

"Music came so easy to him it was like breathing," said his daughter, Hassie Bolden-Banks, who lives in Baltimore.

She recalled that he accompanied many legends of the era, including Ella Fitzgerald. He also counted Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Lionel Hampton, Fats Domino and Billie Holiday as his friends.

When he first saw his infant daughter, the first song that came into his mind was "It Had to Be You," she said.

"Until he died, I walk in and he'd say, `Sing me that song,' " she recalled.

About two years ago, after both his legs were amputated, he moved to a Falls Road nursing home. He continued to play the piano for patients there.

"He seemed to know every song, but I liked to sing a duet of `You say po-tay-toe and I say po-tahh-toe' with him," said Jennifer Dennis, recreation director of HCR Manor Care Roland Park. "He played and played."

Born in Charlotte, N.C., he attended schools there and came to Baltimore in 1935.

He had homes on the west side -- on Payson Street, Edmondson Avenue, Lafayette Avenue and in the 2000 block of Madison Ave. -- before his health forced him to move.

In addition to his musical duties, Mr. Bolden worked for Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Sparrows Point and for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

A funeral service was held Thursday.

He also is survived by a brother, Albert Hudson of Thousand Oaks, Calif.; and a granddaughter, Tiffany Council of Baltimore.

Pub Date: 5/29/99

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