Rod Levitt: Holler




Rod Levitt (trombone)


The Dynamic Sound Patterns of the Rod Levitt Orchestra (Riverside OJCCD-1955-2)

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Rod Levitt (trombone), Rolf Ericson (trumpet), Gene Allen (baritone sax), Sy Johnson (piano),

Buzz Renn (alto sax, clarinet), George Marge (piccolo, clarinet, tenor sax), John Beal (bass) Ronnie Bedford (drums)


Composed by Rod Levitt


Recorded: New York, July 1963


Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Rod Levitt was a trombonist and composer-arranger whose playing and writing struck a near-perfect balance between versatility and highly personal expression. As a player he is best remembered for his tenure in Dizzy's mid-'50s big band, and he played bass trombone on several notable Gil Evans sessions including New Bottle, Old Wine and the April 1959 CBS-TV program featuring Miles Davis. He went on to become a successful writer of music for radio and TV commercials. Despite the bop credentials listed above, his playing was strongly influenced by Tricky Sam Nanton and Lawrence Brown, and he always rejoiced in the fact that the trombone is the only horn that has a slide. (Phil Woods called him "Tailgate Levitt.")

Full Disclosure: I had the pleasure of playing in this group for the last several years of its existence, and like everyone who knew him, I thought Rod Levitt was one of the kindest, most contagiously positive people on the planet.

This distinctive octet originated as a rehearsal band formed by Levitt so that he and several other musicians could maintain their chops and relieve the soul-killing boredom brought about while working five or six shows a day at Radio City Music Hall back when it was a year-round gig. The instrumentation of this group was and still is common among groups seeking a middle ground between a small group and a big band, and many writers for such ensembles tend to use a more or less standardized series of techniques to give the illusion of a larger band. For a number of reasons, including Rod's skillful use of brass mutes and woodwind doubles combined with his seemingly endless resourcefulness as a composer, this octet sounds like no other. Another distinguishing characteristic of Rod's playing and writing was his exuberant sense of humor.

"Holler" begins with Rod's slippery horn wailing over an eerie atonal-sounding background that soon gives way to the Dukish main theme. From then on, it's all about the blues, in a variety of shapes and sizes with especially distinctive solos by Ericson and Johnson. Gene Allen's solo is followed by a beautifully handled transition into half-time for the bass and piano solos. The piece ends as it began with Rod's trombone hollering in the spirit of the blues over the mysterious opening ostinato figure. This group recorded several excellent albums for RCA Victor during the '60s, but none has been reissued on CD.

Reviewer: Kenny Berger

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