People I Know and/or Admire

Howard Levy 

Howard is the most naturally talented musician I know. He is best known as the former harmonica player with Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, and such greats as The Chenille Sisters, Steve Goodman, Bonnie Koloc Kenny Loggins, Chuck Mangione,  Maura O'Connell, Tom Paxton, John Prine, and Spyro Gyra. His world fusion projects include the amazing Trio Globo (will cellist Paul Friesen and the astounding mid-east style hand drummer Glen Velez), oud player Rabih Abou-Khalil, tabla player Sandip Burman and many others.

Howard loves music of all kinds and he loves making music with all kinds of people. Some of his favorites are folk artists - someone with a guitar and a song. Others are folk musicians from very different traditions around the world, such as Balkan Rhythm Band (eastern European dance music), Chevere (salsa), Trio Globo (world fusion).

I think I gave him his first mandolin - a roundback thing I bought in a Seattle pawn shop for about $15. I also gave (or possibly sold) him a cheng - a wire-strung long Korean-style zither similar to a koto that I got at Pier One in about 1968. He used this instrument on a "United flies to the Orient" commercial. I seem to recall he also played this instrument at his wedding.

He was booked once to do a commercial for Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum. He was to play the jew's harp representing the departure of a cowboy riding away on horseback. The part had a bunch of half notes with the word "boing". 

In a harmonica workshop he gave in West Virginia he talked about using complex rhythms. First he talked about sevens then elevens and thirteens. Then he played a thing in 25 (which is really just two sevens and an eleven * ) on harmonica, accompanying himself on piano. 

*3 - 2 - 2, 3 - 2 - 2, 2 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 2
long short short, long short short, short short long short short

My favorite moment with Howard was one time when I went to his apartment and found him sitting on his couch with the score to a Beethoven violin sonata spread out on the coffee table in front of him. He was playing it on a diatonic harmonica. After a few minutes he looked up at me and said, "This is really hard." No kidding, Howard. 

I got to jam with Howard on a few rare occasions. One was a little improv quasi-rock band that performed at a Persian wedding reception. The highlight of that event was when the "real" entertainment arrived. Kiu Haghighi, a world-renowned santur (Persian hammered dulcimer) player performed with his brother on doumbec (drum). This is when the party really started.

The only gig of any real significance I played with Howard was at the Whole Earth Bookstore in Evanston (IL) around 1974. This was an eclectic recital of stuff. I played sitar on a tune he wrote called Raga Abba (ABBA being the form it took). I don't recall the other instruments involved. Howard played harmonica and I'm pretty sure there was a clarinet and possibly tablas. I was not a great sitar player, so I felt pretty stressed. The second half of the concert was Howard playing several solo Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas on a virginal made by Richard Bruné.

In the summer of 1975(?) Howard wrote his first piece of serious classical music - a movement for string trio. At the time both my father, a violist, and my brother, a cellist, were playing summers in Chicago with the Grant Park Orchestra (which my brother continues to do to this day). When my sister-in-law, a violinist, was in town Howard brought the parts over for my family to play. There is a really awful cassette recording of this run-through which I believe is the only performance of it ever. The most interesting moment in the short piece is the final two chords which end on this fabulous dissonance which, unfortunately, was the result of an accidental error in the score. Everyone really liked it, including Howard. These days he's been performing his Concerto for Diatonic Harmonica with the Chicago Sinfonietta and other chamber orchestras.

The Howard Levy Online Information Source

Howard's official and very informative site includes a complete discography, calendar, autobiography, lots of audio clips, a place to purchase music, etc.