RIP Tony Levin, Jazz Drumming Legend and Inspiration, aged 71 (1940-2011)

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:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob9suVsHGCY[/youtube]

Why Sam Rockwell must be one of the best in the industry

I first began noticing Sam Rockwell fairly recently with the release of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in 2007. He was really brilliant in the role. There was no ego to be seen, no obvious pretence – he had just transitioned in to the character of Charley Ford utterly convincingly. It stood out as a good performance, but perhaps not exceptional – until I started seeing him, or rather noticing him, in other things too.

I rewatched The Green Mile and he was there, grotesque and despicable as ‘Wild Bill’. In Frost/ Nixon as determined researcher James Reston, and then came Moon. Wow! What a tour de force. He really blew me out of the water with that one. To steer a film through an hour and a half single handedly and bring it out the other side with critical acclaim is talent indeed. He cropped up again in Everybody’s Fine alongside De Niro and he was totally different again. I had managed to hold back tears in that film until one scene where Rockwell makes the smallest and most subtle gesture to prevent himself tearing up. It was so natural I ended up weeping like a child! And now as if to show the other side of the coin he plays Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2. And what a bloody brilliant performance executed with what can only be called ‘panache’. He was stylish and comically charismatic to a T. Actors just don’t get better than that.

Look over his film listing on IMDB. An unbelievably prolific actor and particularly in the latter years he’s featured in generally lauded films.

I once heard someone say, Michael Caine I think, that he didn’t want people to sit there and think “wow, what good acting” because then he hasn’t done his job, he wanted people to believe he was the characters he played. If that’s true, maybe I’ve overrated Sam Rockwell, but if there’s any leniency in such a statement, and surely there must be or actors would never receive acclaim, then I believe Rockwell to be one of the highest caliber actors I’ve been fortunate enough to watch.

And I haven’t seen Choke (2008) yet. Maybe I’ll knock back with a glass of rum and enjoy that now…