"Joyfully funky” “Light-hearted” “Inventive”
are just some of the words used to describe the maiden voyage of the Ron Levy Jazz Quartet:
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RUMBANGO LINER NOTES
Throughout his busy career, Ron Levy has appeared in a countless number of bands and settings including as an accompanist to a wide range of singers, house pianist, musical director for several churches, freelance keyboardist, record producer, educator, and a composer of classical music. However for a long time he has wanted to record a straight ahead jazz album that featured his piano and compositions. A dozen years ago he began the project that resulted in Rumbango.
At the time, Levy gathered together Wayne Wayne (a saxophonist who for the project stuck exclusively to flute), bassist Benjamin May and drummer Andrea Carol. “Benjamin May was a mentor of mine,” remembers the pianist. “When I was in college, I had a chance to sit in with him. We worked together in different settings for years after that. I learned a great deal from him about how to play jazz. Around that time, I got a job playing in church and they wanted me to build up the band. That is when I met Wayne Wayne. A little while later I started a steady gig that lasted ten years at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel. One time the regular drummer couldn’t make it and called in a sub; that’s how I met Andrea Carol who is a joy to work with.” In 2006 Levy began recording his first jazz album with Wayne, May and Carol. But after recording four songs, he became busy with other projects and the set was never completed. “I happened to listen to the music a few months ago and thought that it still sounded pretty good. It inspired me to call another session with the same musicians to finally finish the CD. Wayne Wayne was unavailable for the session, so I called Greg Parman who I met five years ago. He’s a fine saxophonist and very dedicated.”
Despite being separated by many years, the two sessions are very complementary. “We recorded live in the studio and I had everyone set up as close as possible. I felt that we would play better if we could play off of each other.” The opening number, “Rumbango,” sounds a bit like “Perdido” at first but becomes a different tune, one with a light and playful Latin groove. The song’s title is a combination of rumba and tango. Each of the musicians has an opportunity to solo with May’s bowed chorus being a highlight.
“Around The Block” is a medium-tempo blues with a simple and memorable melody line. Here, as throughout the first session, Wayne Wayne’s relaxed flute playing recalls Frank Wess a bit and the music sounds as if it could have been recorded for Savoy in the 1950s. “Feel The Beat” came from a writing assignment that Ron Levy had in college. The minor-toned chord changes clearly inspired the musicians.
From the more recent session, “Wimpy Talk” is a joyfully funky tune that has some spirited tenor playing by Greg Parman along with assertive drums, dancing basslines, and a soulful piano solo. “Sometimes while I’m sleeping, a song will pop into my head, I’ll wake up with the melody, and I’ll immediately write it down before going back to sleep. This was one of those tunes.”
“Ladies’ Night Out” has a beautiful theme played by Parman on flute and accentuated by the inclusion of a string trio (violinist Gail Gerding-Mellert, Rhea Ingram on viola and cellist Karen Garrity). May’s short statement on bowed bass is a special added touch. “Doink,” a piece with a quirky and witty theme, was one of several that developed in the studio after Levy brought in the melody. “Chordal Memories,” a somber ballad with Parman’s tenor playing long tones, came from the pianist’s work in church, improvising meditative music behind parts of a service.
Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” the only song on this set not composed by Ron Levy, is from the earlier date. It ends the project in a light-hearted manner with some fine flute playing by Wayne Wayne, a bowed bass interlude from May, and inventive playing throughout by the leader.
Ron Levy, who was born in Florida and grew up in Southern California, began playing piano when he was six with classical piano lessons. He discovered jazz when he was 14, started gigging as a Teenager, and gained important experience as an accompanist for dance classes. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Music Composition from UCLA. After graduating, Levy worked for five years at the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts as their composer-in-residence. Since then he has accompanied many singers (including Barbara Morrison, Thelma Jones, Dee Dee McNeil, and Andrea Miller), been active in music programs at churches (as pianist-arranger for the Center For Spiritual Living Newport-Mesa and pianist/conductor for St. Mark Presbyterian’s Saturdays @5), performed locally in clubs and restaurants, maintained a private teaching studio, and written classical music. Recently he composed a Trombone Sonata and a Flute Sonata.
Ron Levy looks forward to performing the music from Rumbango with his quartet for audiences in the future. Its infectious melodies, inventive solos and swinging music certainly deserve to be heard and enjoyed.
– Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including The Jazz Singers, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76