Enjoy Entertainment Guide Poughkeepsie Journal By John Barry - Feature
Levin really tears it up, rips it apart and sews it all back together on the Hammond organ.
Enjoy Entertainment Guide
Indulge in Levin's love of jazz
By John Barry
Pete Levin and band plays Rosendale March 3
February 23, 2007
Fresh out of The Juilliard School, from which he graduated with a master's degree in French horn, Pete Levin in the early 1970s was a very busy session musician.
"There was a lot of work at that time," Levin, a jazz musician, Massachusetts native and current Saugerties resident, said during a recent telephone interview with the Journal. "I was walking around Manhattan, doing two, three sessions a day."
One of the many other musicians doing session work at the time - a horn player - completed his session work one day in 1973 and returned home to New Jersey, before coming back to the city for his gig with the Gil Evans Orchestra, fronted by one of the heavyweights of modern jazz. He arrived at the Village Vanguard, then realized he had forgotten his mouthpiece at home.
Rather than heading home for the mouthpiece and returning, he decided he didn't need the job and left. The vacancy prompted two other band members to call their friend, Pete Levin.
"I had a couple friends in the band who called me and said, 'you gotta come down,' " Levin recalled.
Evans was booked for a week at the Village Vanguard. He kept Levin in the band for that run of shows and for the next 15 years, until Evans died in 1988.
That gig was one way Levin expressed his love of jazz.
"I can't remember a time when I wasn't into jazz," he said. "It goes back to high school."
You can hear Levin indulge his love of jazz on his new CD, "Deacon Blues." You can see Levin play jazz one week from Saturday, on March 3, when he brings his quartet to the Rosendale Cafe.
Supporting Levin on guitar will be Joe Beck, who has worked with Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis and Stan Getz. Playing drums will be Harvey Sorgen, who has played with hot Tuna, Bill Frisell and Anthony Braxton; and rounding out the quartet will be Ernie Colon on percussion.
But Levin won't be playing the French horn in Rosendale, thanks to some musical experimentation he engaged in after playing with Evans for several years. In Rosendale, Levin will be playing jazz on the Hammond organ.
"I was experimenting with synthesizers," Levin said of the instrument that at the time was nowhere nearly as widely used as it is now. "I asked Gil if I could bring one in, make some noises, see how I could contribute. I had a double keyboard rig. He started writing for it and giving me more space. ... He got another horn player. I stopped bringing the horn and that was that."
Levin stuck with the synthesizer after his early exploration with the Evans Orchestra. He worked on music for commercials, which were interested in these new, outer space, synthesizer sounds, particularly since the film "Star Wars" had become a hit.
"The synthesizer is an instrument that doesn't have an established sound," Levin said. "It could sound like almost anything you wanted it to by just tweaking knobs and experimenting and adjusting it. You could take it to a whole other place. It was all about experimentation."
You can watch Levin apply his expertise to this tonal technology when he plays with Uncle Funk, an Ulster County-based superstar dance band that plays cover songs; and the Tony Levin Band, which is fronted by his brother, the bass player for Peter Gabriel; and which often veers into unknown musical territory.
But Levin really tears it up, rips it apart and sews it all back together on the Hammond organ.
"I love his feel, his sense of time, his groove," said Sorgen, who lives in West Shokan and worked with the band My Morning Jacket on their most recent album, which was recorded at Allaire Studios in Shokan. "He's really very strongly groove-oriented. So much of the groove comes from him. It's really easy. It really flows."
As his musical training reached beyond the French horn to a wide array of instruments with keyboards, Levin's exploration of different musical genres has many layers. He has toured with Annie Lennox and along with his brother, toured with Paul Simon.
"Pete's training ranges from classical (French horn at Juilliard) to rock and jazz, with short shops at banjo bands and weirder(!)," wrote Tony Levin in an e-mail. "But his love of jazz keeps bringing him back to that genre - he's very well known, having played live with many groups, and recorded with even more. So it's good to see Pete choosing the material he digs and 'giving it some' on the Hammond B3. The sound is classic, and his playing is terrific."
Gigs with Annie Lennox, Paul Simon and Miles Davis - along with next week's concert in support of his new CD - all mark milestones for this kid from Brookline, Mass.
Incidentally, Levin graduated from Boston University with a degree in music education after a high school teacher suggested the young musician "have something to fall back on."
But he seems to have always gotten his biggest musical kicks while performing live. And the music he loves to perform live is jazz.
"It's very much a function of or a process of a musician expressing themselves," he said. "Improvising, it's kind of like the composing process, except that you're doing it on the spot. Musicians who are very good at that, will, on the spot, be composing compositions that appeal to people."
John W. Barry can be reached at email@example.com.
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