Trying to keep up with new releases, I often get sidetracked by old favorites. It happens that my recent listening coincides with the birthday of two of the listenees.
Lou Levy, Lunarcy (Verve). Levy would have been 81 today. He died in January of 2001. From his post-World War Two beginnings with Georgie Auld through work with Sarah Vaughan, Boyd Raeburn, Woody Herman, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz and Frank Sinatra–among many others–Levy was in demand as a band pianist, soloist, and accompanist to major singers. Uncompromising in his musical standards, he was one of the most important pianists initially inspired by Bud Powell, and he made whoever he was playing with sound better. Every so often, I pull out his 1992 CD Lunarcy. Recorded in Los Angeles for the French label Polygram and released in the US by Verve, Lunarcy got less promotion than it deserved. Drummer Ralph Penland and the late Eric Von Essen, a remarkable bassist, complete the rhythm section. Pete Christlieb is on tenor saxophone on most of the tracks. It is a happy collaboration.
Carol Sloane, Dearest Duke (Arbors). This is also Sloane’s birthday. As far as I know, Dearest Duke is her most recent CD. Full disclosure that I am not an impartial observer of this music: I wrote the liner notes. This excerpt will give you an idea of my enthusiasm for her work in this collection of Ellington songs.
What is a jazz singer? There is no reliable definition, but there is an answer. Carol Sloane is a jazz singer. If she scats one note in a thousand, I’d be surprised. I would not be surprised if that note was full of the spirit of jazz. Vocalists have scatted entire songs, entire sets, without a glimmer of the jazz feeling that Sloane achieves with three words of a ballad.
This is not idle liner note chatter. We have evidence at hand. One minute and six seconds into “Sophisticated Lady,” hear how she employs phrasing, intonation and melodic ingenuity as she sings “…soon grow wise.” It is a gem of a moment in a compelling performance. Sloane finds the heart of Duke Ellington’s tune and makes the most of Mitchell Parish’s lyrics. In her care, the awkward line, “…and when nobody is nigh,” seems absolutely right.
Next time, more recent listening and, possibly, more detachment.
i dig it that Amazon and other purveyors are helping to keep arts/jazz blogs viable by some subtle reciprocal adverts-as-buttons. but this time… $47 for the Lou Levy CD? “Lunarcy” indeed! wouldn’t you have to be over the moon?
(That seems to be a bargain price for this out-of-print CD. A web search discloses that it’s going for as much as $97.31 on some sites. The question for Verve is, when are they going to reissue this treasure. — DR)
Gordon Sapsed says
Thank you for that piece about ‘Lunarcy’ and Lou Levy. The one conversation I ever had with Lou Levy was at a Concert in St John The Divine in New York City in 1996 , associated with the publication of Don Maggin’s Stan Getz biography. (“Three Getz Pianos: A Stan Getz Memorial Tribute”).
I had been in France a week or two earlier and found ‘Lunarcy’ . Lou spoke of his satisfaction with the CD and his hope, at that time, that it would get a U.S. release.
Denis Ouellet says
To me Lou Levy is the epitome of jazz piano playing. It’s a shame he was not more recorded.
I will just pick a quote from Oscar Peterson
“Lou Levy and I became quite close friends on the same JATP tours, when he became a part of Ella Fitzgerald’s backing group. I loved Lou, and really enjoyed him musically.”
Indeed Lou became more known as an accompanist to singers.
Bruce Armstrong says
Every now and then I get out my Lunarcy CD, turn off the lights, sit down in a nice easy chair and click on Lou’s solo piano version of “Ah, Moore.” I close my eyes and listen to a master jazz pianist creating musical beauty.
I originally bought the CD for the title cut. I had the great “All Music” LP that Lou did with Warne Marsh and really enjoyed hearing Pete Christlieb’s version.
I had no idea the CD was out of print. A crime!
Carol Sloane says
You know, I’d forgotten that Lou Levy and I shared the same birthday. We worked together at The Bakery when Clark Terry hired him (and other LA musicians) to play for the gig I was also a part of. It had its moments, i.e., I’m standing next to Clark who is going into one of his solos which calls for bass and horn only. Clark is loudly whispering to me: “Tell Lou to tacit”! I look toward the piano, but Lou is reading his part very carefully and not to be interrupted. Clark is practically shouting at me now: “Tell Lou to TACIT”! I tried again but Lou wasn’t having any of it. I think Clark was convinced I didn’t understand his directive, and I never had a chance to explain, since the dressing room filled each night between sets with well-wishers. Someday I’ll hope to set the record straight, but by now Clark’s probably forgotten all about it. Still haunts me though.
Thank you for mentioning “Dearest Duke.” I love the cd … everything about it really, not the least being your eloquent notes.
George Ziskind says
Needless to say, I enjoyed seeing the nice mention (ever so deservedly) of Lunarcy today.
As Lou told me the story, he was over there and was up in the office of French Polygram and one of the powers that be – Ricard or Renaud – said to him, “Would you be interested in making a few records for us?” Lou said “. . . after I picked myself up off the floor, I said ‘sure’ “.
You might ask Universal why Lunarcy isn’t available on iTunes in the US as it is elsewhere.