Leo Solomon, who has been a tutor with the WEA in Lincolnshire for the past 18 years, has received the honour for services to music in his home town of Grimsby.
It is a fitting accolade to a man who has dedicated his life to educating others, spending 42 years teaching maths and music in secondary education up to sixth form level before turning his talents to adult education by joining the WEA in 1994 on his retirement from school.
He came down from Sheffield University with a BSc in mathematics and physiology, but music was always his first love, initially training as a classical pianist but becoming a ‘jazzer’ very early on, leading his own band at the tender age of 15.
He became a music teacher almost by accident. Having successfully applied for a mathematics post, the head of the school asked if he would be prepared to teach some music. The next morning he found himself as head of music with just a grand piano and 70 song books. He never looked back.
Although a full-time teacher, his love for jazz, coupled with his outstanding musicianship, has seen him play with international stars at the heart of such famous bands as Count Basie and Benny Goodman and he has sat in on sessions with blues legends such as Sonny Boy Williamson and Jimmy Witherspoon. When the names of British musicians he has worked with start tripping off the tongue it becomes a Who’s Who of British jazz: Humphrey Littleton, Kenny Baker, George Melly, Don Lusher and a host of others.
He has brought that love of jazz to the WEA, running regular courses in Grimsby with occasional forays out into the small villages that pepper north Lincolnshire. “Those villages are great,” he says. “We once had a course with 25 people in a small village all wanting to learn how to play jazz. It was knockout.”
He is as enthusiastic about Lifelong Learning as he is about his beloved jazz. “It is absolutely essential, a real necessity, vitally important. How can someone retire and do nothing? I want to help people really enjoy what they’ve got – and more. Helping people realise their potential, helping them really enjoy what they’ve got, that’s what the WEA is about.” And that’s what Leo Solomon, one of the WEA’s finest servants, is also about.