Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Levinovsky, Nick (Nikolay Jacovlevich)

Levinovsky, Nick (Nikolay Jacovlevich), pianist, composer; b. Saratov, Russia, 14 December 1944. His father, Jacob Levinovsky, was born in 1895 in Suvalki, Poland and died in 1974 in Saratov, Russia. He was an opera singer. His mother, Tamara Bezotvetova, was born in 1911 in Yaroslavl, Russia, and died in 1979 in Moscow, Russia. She also was an opera singer. His brother, Sergey Levinovsky, was born in 1950 in Saratov, Russia. Hes a musician, playing saxophone and flute and working as an arranger.

Nick attended Saratov Music College (1959-1963) and Saratov State Conservatory (1968-1974). As a young boy growing up in Saratov in the former Soviet Union, was expected to become a classical pianist or orchestral conductor. His parents, both opera singers, started their son on the piano at age 6. Gifted though he was, Levinovsky nevertheless drifted through his musical training until one day when his father tuned their short-wave radio to the Voice of America and jazz entered Levinovsky's life for the first time. "I was knocked out," Levinovsky recalls about that day when he was just 13. He had never heard music so alive, music that spoke directly to him. "Jazz turned my life upside down," and from then on Levinovsky knew what he wanted to do, what he had to do -- be a jazzman.

Levinovsky went to the Saratov State Conservatory of Music to study composition, piano and theory. He entered the Soviet Army and was soon leading the jazz ensemble for the army orchestra, which won the grand prize at the local jazz festival. Returning to Saratov after his military service, Levinovsky formed a quartet and began to combine modern jazz techniques with Russian folk music. It would become a hallmark of the Levinovsky sound. Gaining recognition from his performances at jazz festivals and on Soviet radio, Levinovsky soon came to Moscow and became music director and arranger for the top jazz bands in the city. He met and jammed with all the jazz greats passing through Moscow including Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Milt Hilton, Thad Jones and Dick Hyman and he played piano on a recording by Ray Coniff, the first American artist to record in the USSR.

In 1978 Levinovsky formed his own group, Allegro, and quickly became nationally famous. They recorded 8 LPs and Allegro was named "best jazz band in the USSR." Levinovsky himself won "musician of the year" honors four times, one of the very few artists accorded that honor repeatedly. As a member of the Union of Soviet Composers and the Jazz Federation, Levinovsky and Allegro were representing the jazz of their country at jazz summits and major festivals the world over. One particularly memorable performance was in Bombay, India alongside the great Don Cherry. According to newspaper accounts, "Playing together they achieved what the Soviet and American diplomats could not -- creative interaction, beauty, harmony."

But all was not harmonious back home. As Russian Jews it was increasingly difficult for Levinovsky's family to remain in the Soviet Union, and for a jazz artist the siren call of the New York jazz world had become impossible to ignore. So Levinovsky immigrated to New York, his fantasy since he first embraced jazz as a boy. Since arriving in New York in 1990 Levinovsky has performed with Rafael Cruz and his Latin band, Wade Barnes and his septet, Major Holly, Tom Harrell and many others. He then formed his own trio and debuted in New York City. Peter Watrous of The New York Times wrote, "Nick Levinovsky has abundant technique and his music offers moments of reflection and lucidity." His charts are played by the Vangaard Orchestra and New York University's Jazz Orchestra, and his revived group, Allegro, has performed everywhere from Boston's Hancock Hall to the JVC Jazz Festival at Lincoln Center.

In the early 1990s Levinovsky met and subsequently married singer Kathy Jenkins. The union has had a profound effect on his music. "Kathy's emotional approach to lyrics has been transferred to me. When she sings "My Funny Valentine," a song I have played for many years, I hear and understand the lyrics as I never did before." In 1996 Levinovsky and Jenkins formed the 17-piece Nick Levinovsky Big Band, a group whose repertoire is Levinovsky's original compositions as well as jazz evergreens. Its debut CD, "Listen Up!" was celebrated at New York's Birdland and Jack Bowers noted in Cadence magazine that Levinovsky "is an excellent jazz pianist and an even better composer/arranger whose memorable charts are the wings on which his band soars above the commonplace." The Levinovsky Big Band soon became in great demand, performing in New York at The Supper Club, Birdland, Roseland Ballroom, Waldorf- Astoria, The Plaza, Red Blazer, Visiones and Atlantic City's Taj Mahal, among other venues. It has performed for organizations including the UJA Federation, New York Swing Dance Society, the Arthritis Foundation, National Organization for Women and many others.

Having achieved his desire to work in the jazz capital of the world, are there any challenges left for Levinovsky? The answer comes quickly. "I want to do what I was put on this earth to do -- be a creator of music."

Contrasts (1979); In This World (1981); Golden Mean (1983); Sphinx (1985); Around The Blues (1987); Classical Jazz Ballads (1988); Five Novels (1989); Listen Up! (1996); Kind of Red (1999); Quiz (2002)
As sideperson: Ray Coniff in Moscow (1975); Wade Barnes Septet (1993); Kathy Jenkins: From This Moment On (1998); Oscar Walden: Skipper (2000); Kathy Jenkins: Swing Madness (2003)
Radio and television broadcasts: Radio Moscow, Russia Central TV, Moscow, Russia Dillenburg, Germany, Local Cable Pori, Finland, Local Cable LeMann, France Various Cable Stations throughout Europe WBGO 88.3, Newark, NJ; CD 101.9, New York, NY, WBAI, New York, NY WNYC, New York, NY Various Public and University stations throughout the USA
Film soundtracks: Night Crew
Unissued recordings: Five Hours of Audio Tapes recorded for Moscow Radio Coltrane Legacy 1989
1992 - 1997 aprox. 20 hours of private video tapes from NYC Clubs, Shows

Bibliography: Books: Sovetski Dzaz (1972), (1986); Unzipped Souls (1991); Red & Hot (1989); Jazz Silhouettes (1995); Encyclopedia of Jazz (1995); Jazz: 20th Century (1998)
Numerous magazine and newspaper articles around the world.

Awards: Musician of the Year, U.S.S.R. Four Times
Best Jazz Group, U.S.S.R Two Times

Websites: Jazz.ru

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