Stan Levey: The Original Original
After leaving Kenton's band in the mid-'50s, Levey spent five years as a member of Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars in Hermosa Beach, a steady year-round gig that led to studio work in Hollywood and occasional employment as a member of Skitch Henderson's pre-Carson Tonight Show band. While with the All-Stars he took part in a memorable "battle of the drummers"? at the Pasadena Civic Center with Max Roach, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. "Compared to Buddy,"? he recalls, "we sounded like babies in diapers. . . .There was nothing we could do about it; we just had to accept it and applaud."? Stan also served as drummer for vocalists Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald while gravitating toward a new career in photography, and worked with Schifrin on such films as The Cincinnati Kid and Bullitt. "The last thing I did in music,"? he says, "was the film Rosemary's Baby."? Afterward, he simply set aside the drumsticks and "retired."? But Stan's career as a photographer flourished (unknown to the public, he had snapped the cover photos for many of the albums on which he appeared), and he began to design covers for other musicians, which he continues to do.
There is much more to hear on this captivating DVD, which runs for nearly two hours, and almost all of it is worthwhile. Levey is a marvelous story-teller, and his reminiscences form the disc's bedrock, in spite of interesting albeit largely generic observations by Hank and Quincy Jones, Holman, Gibbs, Rumsey, Schifrin, author Reed and L.A. Times critic Heckman, among others. Bird, who clearly was one of Stan's biggest fans, adds a note of authority to the analysis. Less persuasive are Diz (who is seen only once, completely off-topic), Miles (who must have been smoking something potent) and drummer Watts, late of the Rolling Stones. There are brief clips of the Kenton and Benny Goodman orchestras and various smaller groups, but these are mostly window-dressing. The disc ends with a nice up-tempo riff by Stan's quintet with Kamuca and Candoli, while the closing credits include the epigraph "In Memory of John Guerin and Chuck Niles."?
As remarkable as it may seem that Stan Levey was a self-taught drummer, even more remarkable are the circumstances and encounters that caused his name to be linked irrevocably to such legendary figures as Parker, Gillespie, Roach, Stan Getz and other bop-era pioneers. As he says early on in the narrative, "I'm a very lucky man."? Yes, he had luck; but he also had the talent to make the most of his opportunities, the shrewdness to adapt to any style, and the stamina to play all night when necessary. The disc, as noted earlier, offers a captivating inside look at the early days of the bop movement, in which Levey played an integral part, and of his later career with Kenton, the Lighthouse All-Stars, Stan Getz and as a part of the Hollywood studio scene, imparted clearly and candidly by Stan himself. The DVD also includes Levey's biography and discography. In all, quite a handsome package, one that should prove highly rewarding to Jazz fans of all ages, backgrounds and opinions.
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