Many readers will be unaware of Walt Levinsky's contributions to jazz and swing. Levinsky was seldom in the spotlight directly except with his Great American Swing Band
. That 17-piece band performed internationally and featured alumni of the great Benny Goodman outfit. Walt Levinsky was a veteran of both the Goodman and Tommy Dorsey bands. He went on to work as assistant conductor for the Tonight Show
and composed music for many other TV venues.
His contemporary and colleague, Dick Hyman, commented "Walt might have been another Woody Herman, Artie Shaw or Benny Goodman if he wanted to be on the road 52 weeks per year." Nevertheless, Levinsky participated in more than 5000 record sessions as a sideman, composer or arranger.
Arbors had wanted to record a Walt Levinsky group for some years but was forced to postpone the project due to the clarinetist's failing health. Some months after his death in 1999, Levinsky's widow, Natalie, discovered the tapes of a 1996 concert in their hometown of River Edge, NJ. This CD is the result of that memorable night.
The swing session brings Arbors veterans Derek Smith and Howard Alden aboard with drummer Joe Cocuzzi and the remarkable Texas bassist, Lynn Seaton. The hometown concert finds Walt Levinsky in a relaxed and swinging mood. Listening to the clarinetist's intelligent and captivating improvisations, one can fully believe that he was star material
. The quintet's Air Mail Special
and A Smooth One
echo the perfection that was present in the Goodman/ Christian sessions. Howard Alden is one of the finest swing performers on the scene and his guitar complements Walt's fluid clarinet passages. The Benny and Duke medleys are superb and my favorite Goodman sextet tune, As Long As I Live
is included. Derek Smith is featured on Fats Waller's Jitterbug Waltz
and he shows amazing creativity in a fabulous trio performance.
Levinsky switches to soprano sax and delivers a touching version of Sophisticated Lady
and vocalist Annette Sanders joins the quintet for the Ellington set. Rockin' In Rhythm
features a fine Slam Stewart tribute by Lynn Seaton and some rollicking piano by Smith.
The evening concert ends with Memories of You
and we bid farewell to Walt Levinsky As He Wanted To Be Remembered