Colombian composer, conductor, pianist, teacher and administrator Jaime Roberto León Ferro was born in Cartagena de Indias on 18 December 1921. His family moved to the USA when he was three years old, and Jaime León studied piano in New York, first with his father and then with Leo Holtz. In the USA he was often known as James Leon, the anglicised version of his name. At sixteen he returned to Colombia and boarding school, then studies in Social Science, and during this time also he studied at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música - piano with Lucía Pérez, Tatiana Goncharova de Espinoza and Claudio Arrau, and theory with composer Guillermo Uribe Holguín. Back in the USA, León studied at Juilliard: piano with Carl Friedberg and, later, conducting, first with Edgar Schenkman and then with Dean Dixon.
As a composer, he was largely self-taught, beginning as a musical exercise. His first songs appeared in 1951-2, but then there was a gap until 1976, probably because his conducting career had picked up, and his wife was expecting a child.
During his time in the USA, he tried to return several times to Colombia, but each time the political situation wasn't stable enough. He found work in the US as a piano accompanist for radio broadcasts, and as a pit conductor. Later he conducted the American Ballet Theatre, becoming well-known.
Finally, the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogota invited him back to Colombia to become the orchestra's full-time music director, a position which he held from 1971 until 1977. Living in Colombia for the rest of his life, he returned to composition. By 1992 he had written thirty-six songs based on Colombian and Ecuadorian poetry. During the 1990s he also conducted, judged music competitions and taught piano and conducting.
Jaime León's manuscripts and papers were donated to EAFIT University, Medellín, Colombia, in 2009, and he died on 8 May 2015, aged ninety-three.
A selection of M&V articles about Jaime León
CD Spotlight. Evocative Stuff - Vocal and choral music by Jaime León, heard by Gerald Fenech. 'Performances are unerringly fresh and balanced ...'