BIOGRAPHY: HOWARD LEVY
Howard Levy is a musician without limits. Composer, Grammy Award winner, multi-instrumentalist, he is best known for his astonishing harmonica playing, which has earned him the admiration of audiences worldwide. The Flecktones, Kenny Loggins, Dolly Parton, Rabih Abou Khalil, Trio Globo, and Paquito D, Rivera are some of the artists with whom Howard has toured and recorded. He has taken his harmonica and his musicality into the realms of Rock, Jazz, Latin, Folk, Classical, World Music, Theater, Movies- just about any place where music is, Howard can be found playing it. Born and raised in New York City, Howard has made Chicago his home for the past 25 years.
A Short History:
In Chicago in the late 70's, he started to tour and record with some of the great singer/songwriters- Steve Goodman, John Prine, Bonnie Koloc, Tom Paxton, to name a few. At the same time, he honed his craft in the studios, playing on thousands of jingles and composing and producing music for public television and documentary films. He formed a jazz group, The NBV Quintet, became the music director for Chevere, the leading Latin-Jazz band in the city, and co-founded The Balkan Rhythm Band, which specialized in the music of Bulgaria and Eastern Europe. In these bands (and others), Howard composed, arranged, played piano, harmonica, saxophones, mandolin, percussion- anything that the music called for. He also performed as a solo artist, opening shows for acts as diverse as Jean-Luc Ponty, Oregon, and Adrian Bellew. Howard also developed a program for schools called "Music from Around the World," in which he played a mind-boggling array of instruments from many cultures for schools all over the Chicago area.
In the mid 80's, Howard wrote and performed the music for Remains Theaterís production of Brecht's "Puntila and his Hired Man," for which he won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Music for a Play. He also toured the U.S. and Europe with Paquito D Rivera, whom he met while playing piano with Tito Puente. During this time he developed a fruitful relationship with the experimental folk group Trapezoid. This led to many recordings and the beginning of Howard's association with The Augusta Heritage Arts Festival in Elkins, WV, where he taught harmonica for seven summers. He then released a self-produced album called "Harmonica Jazz," which started to spread his reputation as someone who could play things that seemed impossible on the diatonic harmonica (like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane compositions) and improvise fearlessly on them as well.
In 1988 while playing with Trapezoid at The Winnepeg Folk Festival, Howard met and played with Bela Fleck, and that was the beginning of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, with whom Howard toured and recorded from 1989 through 1992. Three albums for Warner Bros, many TV appearances (Tonight Show, Arsenio Hall, etc), Grammy nominations, world tours, etc. This was the band that brought Howard's playing to the attention of the music world and the listening public.
After that came a period of many different bands, artists, styles, venues, - Kenny Loggins, Dolly Parton, Ken Nordine, Jerry Garcia, Laurie Anderson, Rabih Abou Khalil, Michael Riessler, Jack Bruce, Trilok Gurtu, Art Lande, Mark Murphy, Trio Globo, Glen Velez, John Tesh(!?), and too many more to list.
He was prominently featured on the soundtracks of three major films- "A Family Thing," "Striptease," and "A Time To Kill." He also released an instructional video on Homespun Tapes, called "New Directions for Harmonica". Radio Bremen produced a series of concerts called "Howard Levyís Harpology Festival," and he headlined and mc'd "Harmonica Convergence" for the Kentucky Center for the Arts. And he won a Grammy for his playing on the Flecktones live retrospective cd, "Live Art."
Howard's musical journeys took him all over the world, and led to a lot more composing. Many of his compositions appear on the two Trio Globo cd's. He also performed his own music with The Howard Levy Quartet and other groups in the US and Europe. In 1995, on a commission from The Rembrandt Chamber Players of Chicago, Howard composed his first extended classical piece, "Harmonia Mundi, Suite for Harmonica and Chamber Ensemble." The Chicago Tribune called it "a dazzler, with tuneful melodies, relentless rhythmic drive, and imaginative interplay between the players." He has given perfomances of this piece in the US and Europe.
In 1997-98, Howard collaborated on a musical, "Tales From Trashmania" with Bonnie Koloc, performed with the a capella female vocal group Vida, did a series of concerts with Indian Bharanatayam dancer Ranee Rawaswamy and poets Robert Bligh, Coleman Barks, (among others), toured in a trio with bassist Kai Eckhart and percussionist Ty Burhoe, with bassist Dieter Ilg and his "Folk Songs" group, and played several duo concerts with cellist Eugene Friesen and percussionist Glen Velez. He appeared at the Ravinia Festival with Musica Anima and Branford Marsalis playing tangos by Astor Piazzola.
In 1999 he recorded a cd, "The Stranger's Hand" with drummer Steve Smith, bassist Oteil Burbridge, and violinist Jerry Goodman for Tone Center Records. He toured with Bobby McFerrin and Astral Project. He headlined Harmonica Summit 1 in Chapel Hill, NC, from which a video was made. He played a concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London with Ken Nordine, recorded a cd in Amsterdam with bassist Dean Peer, toured Germany as a solo artist and in a trio with M. Riessler and J-L Matinier.
In 2000, he played in SWR's New Jazz Meeting in Baden Baden, and played the Tallin, Estonia, Jazz Festival and Schloss Elmau with Michael Riessler. He also gave lecture/concerts at Harvard and Berklee School of Music in Boston, and recorded a live cd with Ken Nordine. Coming events include Harmonica Summit 2 in Minneapolis (www.harmonica.org/summit), a performance of the Bach Em Flute Sonata on harmonica at Ravinia, a tour of Brasil in July, and concerts in Oregon, New Mexico, and Rhode Island.
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