Harry Leahey: World Class Guitarist Stayed Close To Home

Harry Leahey Nuages 

By Flip Peters:

If you took guitar lessons between the late 60s and 1990, the chances are very high that you studied with Harry of one of his students. 

There are very few videos of Harry playing. This is one from the mid 1980s in Rochester, NY. Harry performs with his regular trio, with Roy Cumming, bass and Glenn Davis, drums. Thanks to Walt Bibinger, one of Harry's former students and himself a great guitarist, for this video.

This is from the Abstract of my Masters Thesis which was a bio and an in depth look at Harry's approach to the guitar. Harry Leahey was a guitarist and guitar teacher who lived, taught and performed primarily in New Jersey.

His career began in the early 1960s and continued until his death in 1990. He studied guitar with Lou Melia, a local guitar teacher, Al Volpe, the renowned studio guitarist and teacher of such players as Joe Pass and Sal Salvatore, leading jazz and studio guitarist Johnny Smith and Dennis Sandole, teacher of such students as Pat Martino and John Coltrane.

He studied theory and composition at Manhattan School of Music. Although he never achieved a high degree of fame he played and recorded with Phil Woods, Gerry Mulligan, Al Cohn, Jack Six, Warren Vaché and numerous other well known jazz artists, all of whom held him in the highest esteem.

He performed with local artists, both jazz and commercial. From 1978 to 1990 he performed with his own trio and in duo settings with various bass players. He recorded one album with his trio, one duo album with Steve Gilmore and one solo album. A dedicated and practical family man, he chose to devote himself to teaching the guitar.

He taught privately at his home in Plainfield, New Jersey and from 1974 to 1988 at William Paterson University (then William Paterson College). He died in 1990 at the age of 54.



  1. Mr. Harris, As you note many of us that play guitar owe our aspirations to Harry. I was a a teenager working at Bandstand Music in Westfield, N.J. in the early 1960’s when I met Harry. Never took lessons from him but he would always show me things and to this day I play Tenderly and Satin Doll and Girl from Ipanema as he showed me. It was his magic at chordal melodies that I loved. Only time I saw him upset was an occasion he went out to lunch and I thought I would do him a favor and polished his L5, even got the cigarette burns on the headstock subdued. He got back and to my surprise was not happy I had disturbed the patina, but was kind enough to know I meant well. To this day i rarely polish my guitars, only clean the fretboards. what a wonderful role model, mentor and kind man. Thanks for the nice article, Bill Frey

    • Robert Harris

      Hey Bill, thanks for writing here- so cool that you got to know Harry…. something that I never had the chance to do. I only saw him play out live one time… needless to say I was very impressed. I did however get to know two of his sons Jimmy (who is a great guitarist) and Dennis (drums), who passed away a couple years ago. I live close to Plainfield where Harry was from, so it seemed like everyone I knew was taking lessons from him. He’s one guy that definitely deserves the recognition.

  2. Robert, you have his insight and maintain his spirit, as I am sure his sons have told you.. he would have gotten such a kick reading your works and he would have smiled, reworked a sentence or two and said,” Try this phrasing”. Ha ha, be well, Bill Frey

    • Robert Harris

      Thanks Bill- coincidentally just today a jazz buddy of mine mentioned Harry. His influence and sprit is alive and well.

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