Skip to main content

Leighton Harrell


Leighton Harrell, photo provided by the subject.


Leighton Harrell (he/him) is a bassist and composer from Raleigh, North Carolina. He found his passion for music at the age of 16, and a year later was selected to be a member of the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble, with which he attended the 2017 Essentially Ellington Jazz competition in New York City. Upon graduating from high school in 2017, Leighton received a scholarship to attend the University of Toronto’s Jazz Performance program where he is currently completing his undergraduate degree. Since moving to Toronto, Leighton has balanced a filled schedule of gigs around the city alongside his studies and beginning in 2019, has held a biweekly residency at Poetry Jazz Café with his quartet. Other performed venues include The Rex Jazz and Blues Bar, The Toronto Jazz Festival, the Kensington Market Jazz Festival, the 120 Diner, The Emmet Ray, The Drake Underground, Toronto Meridian Centre for the Arts, and the Old Mill, among others. In addition to freelance work on the Toronto Jazz scene, Leighton has worked with Toronto hip-hop artist Ice Tha One and R&B artists LOONY and Avery Raquel.

As a composer and artist, Leighton draws inspiration from hymns and spirituals, folk music, and various traditions of Black American Music in which Jazz has its roots. In addition to performance and composition, Leighton teaches a number of private students on both the electric and acoustic bass. Leighton is currently a student of Andrew Downing, and has studied with Dave Young, Geoff Young, Rodney Whitaker and Ben Wolfe, among others.

In this Interview

Anti-Semitism, Arts Funding, Black American Music, Black Identity, Black Lives Matter, Canadian Identity, Classism, Colonialism, Cultural Appropriation, Diversity, Economic Disparity, Equity, Exploitation of Black Musicians, Identity, Imposter Syndrome, Isolation, Genocide of Indigenous People, Mental Health, Mentorship, Music Pedagogy, Performative Diversity, Police Violence, Racism, Slavery, Whiteness, White Supremacy

Trigger Warnings:

This interview includes mentions of the death of George Floyd. It also includes mention of Blackface.


On November 10, 2020, Leighton Harrel participated in an interview with Hillary Chu (member of the Faculty of Music Anti-Racism Alliance).

View interview in full screen.

Leighton Harrell