There is a formal obituary written over at JazzWise, but I thought I’d also share my own thoughts on Tony Levin. I knew jazz drumming hero Tony Levin through my playing with Shropshire Youth Jazz Ensemble (SYJE) which was run by his wife, Chris Bolton, and I was instantly drawn to his phenomenal talent and gentle character. Our families became good friends during that time and I was lucky enough to watch him play on numerous occasions (especially at Leasowe’s Bank), play alongside him during SYJE rehearsals at Church Stretton, and he also offered me some golden nuggets of advice about drumming generally, including an absolute masterclass on the six stroke role. His graceful, effortless style was as fascinating to watch as it was beautiful to listen to, and he really loved the music.
Tony Levin had been battling illness for years and years before succumbing on February 3rd 2011. During all of that time he was still playing, still gigging in his Birmingham Jazz Club, and he even toured the UK recently with Mujician, a free jazz band including fellow jazz greats and his good friends, Keith Tippett on piano, Paul Dunmall on saxophones and Paul Rogers on double bass.
I counted Tony Levin as one of my key inspirations as a musician and as a drummer. Although I feel sure his influence will live on through his music and the passion for jazz he sparked in younger players, he will be sorely missed.
Tony’s wife Chris left this note online at The London Drum Jazz Cafe:
“Thank you to you all for giving Tony so many happy times on the bandstand through music. Tony lived for his music and his family and has inspired so many people including myself in his lifetime in so many ways. He loved teaching at the conservertoire, it meant a lot to him. He would have said just keep on doing it! His motto in life was just make every note count on or off the bandstand.
I will love him always. x x”
If you’re on facebook, be sure to visit The Tony Levin Memorial Page, where there are some great videos and memories being shared. You may also like to explore his website tonylevin.org In the meantime, here’s a video of Tony playing with Mujician last year: