A Musical Retrospective of 2016
Once again, another year in the books. I ended this one playing (for the 4th year in a row) at The First Presbyterian Church of Evanston for Evanston’s First Night celebration. This year was a little different, because I played solo. It felt great to play for a full house in such a beautiful venue. The church was designed by the legendary Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, and it is a beautiful space with a really nice Steinway B. At the end of the night, Corky Siegel and I played a set together, which was a lot of fun, too. I hope that Evanston’s First Night continues and that Stuart Rosenberg keeps guiding it artistically.
In 2016, I probably practiced piano more than at any time in the past 20 years. I am working hard on notating a bunch of my solo Jazz and Latin Jazz piano pieces, and hope to publish a book of them in 2017.
One of the most gratifying accomplishments of the year was FINALLY putting out a CD of some of my best recordings from 1998- 2006. I called it “Tango and Jazz”, and you can check it out at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/howardlevy4


Some highlights of the year

In February I played my Harmonica Concerto with The Evanston Symphony conducted by Larry Eckerling. There is nothing quite like playing a concert like this in your home town. Northwestern’s Pick-Staiger Hall was sold out and the orchestra and conductor were great. I also played an arrangement of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess Suite”. Larry had the great idea to expand the arrangement for me to solo over 4 or 5 of the tunes with a Jazz rhythm section. It worked really well, and I hope to perform this piece again somewhere. And since the maestro also is a fine Jazz pianist, we played “My Funny Valentine” together for an encore.
In March, I played my final appearance on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” in Milwaukee. It was a bittersweet feeling. It felt wonderful to play, Garrison featured me heavily, he even wrote some song lyrics to me (a total unrehearsed surprise), I played my tune “Bluegrass on Broadway” on piano (!), and more. It was a great swan song. I hope that Chris Thiele asks me to play on his version of the show, but if it never happens, I have the memory of this last show, and the other 50- 60 that I played on for 20 years.
In May I played a special concert at The Unitarian Church of Evanston with Larry Gray on bass, cello, flute, and piano, and Jean Leroy and Kalyan Pathak on percussion. It was a wonderful evening in another beautiful Evanston space.
June was a very busy month. The Flecktones had a 14- city (in 16 days) reunion tour, starting with 3 intense days of rehearsal in Nashville. We played mostly in the East and Midwest, finishing up in Colorado. I have to say that I think it is the best the band has ever sounded -at least the version with me in it 🙂 We had a fantastic time playing and hanging out together and are going to do this again in August of 2017- keep an eye out for us. It will be a double bill with Chick Corea’s Elektric Band.
In July, Trio Globo made its second appearance at Chicago’s Green Mill. Then we played 3 concerts at The Barn in Wichita. Two of these featured Eugene Friesen’s settings of “Prairie”, the poetry of Carl Sandburg, done with a string quartet, bass, narrator, and choir. This was wonderful and I hope we can perform it again.
In late July, I flew to Taiwan for about 10 days to play in several festivals, mainly the Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival, a huge event with over 2,000 harmonica players. I played jazz with a band of really fine musicians from Taiwan, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil (!), and performed my concerto with an orchestra. I was also a judge for several competitions. There is an extremely high level of harmonica culture in Asia, with especially virtuosic playing on tremolo harps and chromatic harmonicas. There was a junior high school harmonica orchestra from Taiwan that played Rossini’s “Barber of Seville Overture” with an incredible amount of musicality and virtuosity- from memory, with no conductor. My jaw was on the floor, and there were tears in my eyes as I listened. The whole experience was fantastic, with too many great times to list.
After my return, my parents flew up from Florida, and I played a concert with my 93 year old father at Temple Beth El in Highland Park, IL. My dad is an amazing singer. He sang 12 songs from Broadway and the operatic tradition, and his wonderful bass- baritone voice and heartfelt emotional delivery got him a standing ovation. I have to thank cantor Ben Tisser, who heard him sing at a concert in Boca Raton in 2015, and made this happen at his temple. It was a very special experience.
In August I flew down to Nashville and taught for several days at Victor Wooten’s Bass and Nature Camp. Vic and Roy graciously sat in and assisted me in my classes. I taught 2 of my favorite subjects, “The Melody of Rhythm” and “ Rhythmic Resolution”. I also got to hang out with my buddy Steve Bailey, and met the wonderful Chuck Rainey. Vic, Roy, and I played a little concert, and Bela made a surprise visit, too. We gave an informal class together and explained how we wrote and arranged some of our music. It was a great experience, and I hope to teach there again.
In September I played a benefit concert in Philadelphia with Trio Globo and special guests Teresa Thomasson and Simon Shaheen. Then 2 Jazz concerts in Wisconsin with the wonderful drummer Dane Richeson and bassist Mark Urness. After that, I played Woodfest in Flint Hills, KS, with Eugene Friesen and members of The Wichita Symphony. We performed 3 of Piazzolla’s “Five Tango Sensations”, among other things. It was a musical highlight.
This year, the Jewish High Holidays took place in October, and once again I played for Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur services, with my son Miles on drums and Larry Gray on bass, flute, and piano. This year we were in the beautiful and acoustically friendly Highland Park Community House. Cantor David Landau, as always an uplifting spiritual presence, poured his heart and soul into it. And the new rabbi, Tsafi Lev, provided insightful counterpoint with a refreshing new approach to the role of the Holidays in aiding our spiritual growth.
Later in October, I flew out to Colorado to give a workshop at U. of Colorado on my approach to John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”. My friend Brad Goode, an astounding trumpet player, is the head of the Jazz dept. there. We played a wonderful gig together, too. After that I played a concert in Greeley, CO, for a series that has been going on there for many years. I had a great band led by guitarist Steve Kovalchek, and we had a wonderful time.
In November, I devoted a lot of time to practicing piano and composing, as well as to my online harmonica school, which is now in its 6th year. www.howardharmonica.com. And I played a wonderful reunion concert with pianist Anthony Molinaro at Loyola University in Chicago, where he is head of the music department. I hope that we continue to perform together, and put out a second CD.
In December, with the help of pianist Stu Mindeman, I finally put all the edits and revisions into the oboe sonata that I composed for Robert Morgan in 2014. I plan on making a few more small revisions, and hope to publish the piece this year. More plans for 2017 include releasing more recordings from the vaults, making new ones that I can’t discuss yet, and continuing to have the privilege of making a living playing and writing music for all the people who appreciate what I do. � Wishing you all a productive, fulfilling 2017. Onward and Upward.



My Background in Classical Music:

I started my musical life on the piano at age 8, and immediately began to improvise and compose.  From age 9 to 12, I took piano lessons and music theory on Saturdays at The Manhattan School of Music. My piano teacher was a very precise prize-winning pianist named Jean Graham who insisted on proper form and fingering.  Her instruction and what I learned in Theory classes laid a solid musical foundation that helped me for years to come. I also absorbed a lot from my fellow musicians, and got many chances to perform pieces at the weekly concerts.

Later, I studied pipe organ at my high school for 2 years. This introduced me to the greatness of Bach, and I have continued to play and love Bach’s music ever since. I was also an usher at a chamber music concert series in Manhattan for a two years, and got to hear most of the world’s great string quartets and soloists.I didn’t play classical music for a while after that. I was too busy with Jazz and learning harmonica, sax, flute, mandolin, etc.

In my 20’s I got interested in the harpsichord.  I was very lucky to be good friends with Richard Bruné, a great instrument maker who let me practice on the instruments in his Evanston workshop.  I especially liked English Renaissance music, which was almost entirely theme and variations – like Jazz. And the Evanston Bach Week concerts rekindled my love for the music of Bach, with a performance of The Musical Offering making an especially deep impression. Around that time (the early 1970’s), I composed a short string trio for a family of string players whose father, Dale Newton, was a violist in the Chicago Symphony. It was my first try, and they liked it, though it was never performed in public. Many years went by before my next attempt at “classical” composing.

End of the Year Message

It’s that time again, the end of another cycle of days, weeks, and months that we call a year. I wish all of you the best possible New Year, and hope that this year was a productive one, or at least one where you each made progress toward personal goals.

As Winter closes in on us in Chicago, driving us indoors with its cold, short days, it is a good time to reflect on the year’s events, many of which happened outdoors. I had the good fortune to play about 90 concerts with The Flecktones this year and got to see many of you in my travels. Our caravan was a modern tour bus, and we were basically gypsies, going from place to place playing once and moving on.

Sitting here at home thinking about it, it is a blur of cities, festivals, faces, stages, pianos, cheering audiences, moments of silence, nights sleeping on the bus, and mornings waking up in hotel parking lots.  As we traveled, the music demanded that we play our best every night. I tried to bring an attitude of spontaneity and creativity, along with precise technique, to each performance. It was a strain and a challenge that lifted me to higher levels of musicianship. It was also a lot of other things- deepening friendships and musical rapport with the guys, learning patience, how to pace myself and keep my own identity, staying focused on each show but working on other projects, staying closely connected with those I love, and planning for the future. Bela, Victor, Roy, and the whole crew are people who know how to live productively on the road. I learned a lot from their examples and grew a lot in the process as we traveled across the US and Canada.

I also got to play my own music in wonderful settings. I performed my concerto with the Hohner Harmonica Orchestra in Trossingen, Germany, and with The Lawrence University Orchestra in Wisconsin, premiered my suite “Recuerdos de Nueva Yorque” at Millenium Park with Chévere and friends, toured Russia, Poland, Germany, and Hungary with Chris Siebold,  Israel with Alberto Mizrahi and Saffron Caravan, played the Jewish High Holidays with my son Miles (a joy to play with him), gave some solo concerts, and played as a guest at several Jazz Festivals. One constant in all of this has been maintaining and expanding The Howard Levy Harmonica School. We have several hundred members from all over the world and I am very proud of it.

Putting “Recuerdos” into performance form was a major task. I worked with trumpeter/arranger Victor Garcia, without whose help I couldn’t have done it, as I have no computer music notation skills. With his expertise in Finale and expertise in Latin percussion, I played all the parts into Finale with a USB keyboard and we edited and arranged it together. The Aug. 18 Millenium Park concert with Chevere and friends, Trio Globo, and Chris Siebold, was one of the greatest nights of my life. Thanks to the City of Chicago’s Cultural Affairs Dept, the great Millenium Park staff and the devotion of all of the musicians, the audience of 8,000 loved the music. I hope to do more concerts like this.

In my travels, I have come across some really interesting books. New Orleans especially is a place that always makes me feel different when I play there. I visited the Jean Lafitte Visitors’ Center and bought a fascinating book called “Creole” by Sibyl Kein. This book is a must- read for anyone interested in the musical and cultural history of America.  I also got totally immersed in “The Orientalist”, an amazing non- fiction book by Tom Reiss, and had an interesting time reading Hazrat Inayat Khan’s  “The Mysticism of Sound and Music”, which was given to me in Dallas by my old Evanston friend Jack Salamone.

Fox (my longtime girlfriend) and I saw a movie called “Young Goethe in Love”. It was a flawed but compelling movie, and it made me look into the complex life of this amazing man for the first time. We also saw Hershey Felder’s incredible one-man show about Leonard Bernstein, “Maestro”. This is a tour-de-force, a must-see.  It was heavy for Fox to see this re-animation of a genius with whom she had several peak experiences playing music, and inspiring to me to witness Mr. Felder’s fantastic musicianship at the piano.

In some of my breaks from the road, I got to hear the Chicago Symphony play some amazing concerts in Chicago and at Carnegie Hall. I am always astounded by their precision, and in the best concerts, the emotional effect of the music is overwhelming, reminding me of the transcendent levels achieved by the greatest composers and instrumentalists. The orchestra is a treasure that the city of Chicago tends to take for granted- they set the bar very high for me in my quest for musical excellence.  The fact that Fox has been a member of this group for 30+ years gives me additional insights into its workings. It is a musical tribe whose members must meet the most exacting standards day after day while playing under many different conductors in just about every style of music composed over a span of more than 300 years.

Also, thanks to youtube, I have seen footage of some of my Jazz heroes that I never would have seen otherwise. Particular standouts were Cannonball Adderly playing at Montreux in 1973 (wow), Coltrane and the quartet playing “I Want to Talk About You” in Sweden in 1962 (pure genius), the always inspired Errol Garner playing “Misty”, Duke and the Orchestra playing “Satin Doll” (!), and others- the Cuban group Orq. Ritmo Oriental from 1981 playing “Cuidado con la percussion”- incredible. There is also great website called “Jazz on the Tube” that you should check out.

I saw my daughter Stephanie and her husband Roland twice- once by visiting their home in Perth, Australia, and the second time when they visited us here in Chicago. It is always wonderful to see them. I also got to see my sister and her family in Atlanta. Burt’s video post – production business is thriving, and Regina’s ceramic art gets more amazing every year. http://tucker.patch.com/articles/fusing-function-with-nature

I got to see my parents several times in Florida and Chicago. They continue to be youthful and vigorous, living every minute to its fullest as they defy conventional perceptions of aging. At 85, my mother works regularly as a counselor, and my father continues to fence and sing recitals at 88…

So, onward and upward for all of us in 2012. In spite of the difficulties in the world, I remain optimistic about the future. If we as individuals to try to live up to our highest personal standards, the world will be a better place.

Another year goes by…2012

As 2012 nears its end, it leads me to reflect on the incredible variety of experiences I had in this last go-round. January through May: It started with a whirlwind Flecktones tour of Dublin, Glasgow, and- believe it or not- Eilat, Israel.  This was wonderful but really grueling. I got to play with some fantastic […]

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Reading Matter (5/09)

As a harmonica player and pianist, I often find myself practicing. As a composer, I often jot down little ideas in music notebooks that sometimes become compositions. Sometimes I’m at an instrument, sometimes not. And then there is recording, rehearsing, booking tours, etc. When people ask me if I have any hobbies, I usually just […]

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Recording and sitting in with Donald Fagen

In 2006 I got the call to fly to NY and record on Donald Fagen’s new cd (first one in many years) “Morph The Cat”. After I walked into the studio and met Donald,  I asked him how he had heard of me. I figured it was The Flecktones, Kenny Loggins- something like that- but […]

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July 4th, 2008

Had a great 4th of July weekend at home, busy playing music. I played on “A Prairie Home Companion” at Ravinia (my 3rd time there with the show), a 20 minute drive from my house. This time, it was an embarrassment of riches for me. I premiered my minor- key Bluegrass tune “The Streets of […]

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An interesting week, June 8-14, 2008

I have known Paul Reisler for 25 years, since we met at The Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1982 when he was playing with Trapezoid. I recorded with him on many projects, most recently the fascinating “At Night The Roses Tango” a few years back. Since then, we’ve played concerts of this music every June in […]

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Music Videos

Over the years, I have appeared in a bunch of music videos. The first big one I did was “The Sinister Minister” with The Flecktones in 1989. We did another one in NYC and upstate NY in 1991, and one in Nashville for VH 1 around the same time. I did a bizarre one with […]

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An Arabian Tent Party Wedding

Folk Music I developed a love for so-called “folk music” in the mid 60’s going to summer camp in upstate New York. Guitar was the campfire instrument. Plucking strings in the rhythmic fingerpicking patterns wove a magic spell when mixed with a flickering campfire, pretty girls, a starry sky, and the smells of the country. […]

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How I Found Overblows and Overdraws

Pt. 1- Background It was Winter of 1969-70. I was playing piano in the Jazz band at Northwestern Unic=versity in Evanston, IL. The bandleader was the great alto saxophonist Bunky Green. There were some very good horn players, and a good drummer and bass player. Reading big band charts was a new thing for me. […]

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Rocky Grass Song School and Festival with Paul Reisler

8/14/04 I just returned from the Rocky Grass Song School and Festival in beautiful Lyons, CO. I taught a class called “Musicianship” to singer/songwriters. The staff was made up of many fine artists. Many of the students are professionals with careers who come there to learn more about songwriting, the business, to have their minds […]

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Gordon Elliot Story

Summer of ‘90, I was with The Flecktones, and we were opening shows for Chicago. It was a strange pairing, but we opened about 30 shows for them and it helped spread the band’s name. One was at The Jones Beach Ampitheater on Long Island, around July 4th. After the show, I went to stay with my […]

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How I Bent My First Note

January 2004 I’ve read some other people’s accounts of this life-changing experience, and some pretty good ones, too. I thought I’d add my experience to the pile. I started trying to play harp toward the end of senior year of high school in New York, 1969. I had played piano since I was 8 years […]

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Rod Paparozzi

April 2003 This is an account that Rob Paparozzi wrote about the events of Mar. 28-30 after the wonderful harmonica gathering he and Wade Schuman staged`Mar. 30 in NY. It went on for more than 8 hours, with an incredible amount of high-level harp playing and good music, which Rob recounts in amazing detail! Rob […]

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The Making of “The Old Country”

There were some unique things about the making of this cd. One was the hotel. The owner of M.A records, Todd Garfinkle, lives in Tokyo, is married to a Japanese woman, and speaks fluent Japanese. He rented a hi-tech hall in a little town in the country about 2 hours west of Tokyo. It had […]

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The One-Note Piano

July 2002 In May 2002 I did a tour of England with Rabih Abou Khalil. We rehearsed in London for 2 days and then played 7 nights all over England. Then I flew to Germany and played 3 solo concerts there, which I enjoyed very much. After that, I took a train from Ulm to […]

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July 2002 Sometimes things happen that just boggle the imagination.They are not outside the realm of possibility, just highly improbable. In Winter of 1998 or ’99, I was in Amsterdam doing a cd with an electric bassist for an obscure little record label. The label got all of the musicians a little house to stay […]

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East Meets Jazz

East Meets Jazz I just returned from the Sandip Burman “East Meets Jazz” tour. Unfortunately, we were cancelled in mid- tour as a result of the terrible events in New York on Sept. 11. We played our final show that night in Blacksburg, VA. It was a very emotional concert. We began with a long […]

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The Stolen Harmonicas

Around 1987-88 I was sitting in the kitchenette at Streeterville Studios in Chicago after playing on a jingle. I had brought an amp, and it was sitting in the hall right next to the room I was in, along with my coat and my harps, which were in a fishing tackle box inside a fancy- […]

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Latin Music

I have been playing what is commonly called “Latin Music” for about 20 years. My interest in it started in New York where I grew up. New York has a very large Puerto Rican and Cuban community that supported a huge music scene. Most of the music, called “Salsa”, was a blend of Afro-Cuban music […]

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Mistaken Identities

Musicians travel to so many unusual places and meet so many people. Lots of times people who we don’t know come up to us and say that they saw us play somewhere we don’t remember playing. When this happens, usually I smile politely and say “Thank you- glad you enjoyed it”, and wonder if it […]

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With Rabih Abou Khalil in Taiwan

Touring with Rabih Abou Khalil was always an adventure. We met playing a concert in Athens with Glen Velez in 1991 (I was on a break from the Flecktones). I played more than a hundred concerts with him from 1993 to 1997 (and a few after that), and recorded 2 cd’s. We performed mostly in […]

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An Arabian Tent Party Wedding

An Arabian Tent Party Wedding Unusual gigs I used to do in Chicago… I never played too many “jobbing dates”, as they are called in Chicago. But in the early and mid 80’s, I did don my tuxedo and venture out with my electric keyboard or other axes to play the odd job here and […]

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I finally played in Brasil this past July. Thanks to the efforts of my friend Geraldo DeOliveira in Chicago, and Ciro Cruz and Flavio Guimaraes in Brasil, everything happened just as it was supposed to. Ciro put together the band- Toca DeLamare on piano, Mila Schiavo on percussion, and himself on bass. We performed a […]

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I just got back from playing 2 concerts in The Czech Republic. Thanks to the tireless work of long- time friend Slavek Hanslik, the experience was a wonderful one. I played at The Lucerna in Prague with bassist/pianist Larry Kohut, my son Miles on drums and percussion, and guest artist Jiri Stivin from Prague (a […]

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The Star Spangled Banner

I have had the honor of playing the national anthem three times in Chicago, twice for the White Sox once for the Bulls. Each time, something surrealistic happened, and I’ll share two of them with you. My first experience was playing at the old Chicago Stadium for the Bulls in the late ’80′s. Michael Jordan […]

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