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VALLEY WEEKEND

Pianist Admits to Influence of Jazz Greats but Sticks to Own Style

Lou Levy has performed with such big names as Stan Getz, Woody Herman and Tommy Dorsey, but his success is in unique melodic solos.

October 10, 1996|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pianist Lou Levy is destined to be haunted by his past. And happily so.

"It seems like I was in the right place at the right time all my life, getting to play with Stan Getz, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, Terry Gibbs," said Levy. "And then, of course, there were the singers: Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald." A reasonably good list, wouldn't you say?

Currently, Levy is involved with a project for Verve Records, picking tunes for a single-CD anthology of music made by saxophonist Stan Getz, with whom he played piano in the mid- to late '50s, and again in the early '80s.

"I'm trying to select the tunes from a three-CD package called 'East Of The Sun: The West Coast Sessions,' " which is due for release this month. "The set also includes photographs I took in the '50s and I got to write an essay analyzing Stan's approach to music."

Levy and Getz are similar in style: Both play warm, melodic solos that fall easily on a listener's ear. Levy, who plays every Wednesday in October at Monty's Steakhouse, got an inkling of that style when he was first captivated by music at age 12, listening to a big band in his hometown, Chicago.

"I was at a confirmation party at a big hotel, and I heard this band which made the most gorgeous sound I ever heard. It was Glenn Miller," said Levy, who lives in North Hollywood with his companion, singer Pinky Winters. "I figured it had to be the best thing of all time, and I started taking piano lessons."

In high school, Levy played in a Dixieland jazz band and soon was sitting in with better jazz groups on Chicago's North Side. "I got a reputation as a kid who played pretty decent," he said. When a spot opened up in a group led by ex-Benny Goodman saxophonist Georgie Auld, Levy, with drum great Tiny Kahn's recommendation, filled it. "That was my first big-time gig," he said.

Soon, Levy was Getz's bandmate in Herman's ensemble, and when the classic ballad "Early Autumn" was recorded with Getz as featured soloist, Levy got a few bars to blow on, too.

"People still comment on that solo," he said. "There was a little bit of space and I took advantage of it and it worked out fine."

Other career highlights include his work with Ella Fitzgerald, with whom he traveled with the renowned jazz troupe, Jazz at the Philharmonic.

He admits numerous pianistic influences, from Art Tatum and Bill Evans to Bud Powell and Teddy Wilson. Levy said he got something from each, but not their sound. That was always his. "Why would you want to sound like somebody else?" he asked rhetorically.

Levy has done well since his halcyon days. A charter member of Supersax, he's also worked steadily as a solo player and in trios, as he does at Monty's. There, appearing with drummer Danny Pucillo and bassist Bob Maize, Levy offers an attractive array of standards in an off-the-cuff manner.

"There's no preparation, no rehearsal. We just start a song and everybody joins in," he says. The numbers might include such favorites as "Old Devil Moon," "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Russian Lullaby."

"Absolutely anything that comes to mind," said Levy. "And if someone doesn't know a tune when we begin, they will by the time we finish."

* Lou Levy plays Wednesday (and Oct. 23 and 30), 7:30-11:30 p.m., at Monty's Steakhouse, 5371 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. No cover, no minimum. Call (818) 716-9736.

Ears for Guitar: Saxophonist Dan St. Marseille often employs a pianist for his bands, usually Cecilia Coleman, who plays with him in a quintet at Chadney's in Burbank on Oct. 24.

But St. Marseille, based in Orange, relishes encounters with guitarist Steve Cotter, with whom he'll perform Saturday at Jax.

"Steve's really magical," said St. Marseille. "He's in his mid-20s but playing well beyond his years. And the way he plays really blends well with my tenor. There's a special warmth."

* Dan St. Marseille and Steve Cotter at Jax, 339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, at 9 p.m. Saturday. No cover, no minimum. Call (818) 500-1604.

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