While out to dinner recently, someone commented that guitarist Adam Levy has the Grammy touch. And indeed, with the Norah Jones band playing this year’s Grammies, and being a former member of Grammy winner Tracy Chapman’s ensemble, one can certainly concur. With the pending release of Get Your Glow On, though, one can see Levy stepping out of the shadows and exposing his full range of musicianship from composer, to organizer to performer.
Growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles, California, Adam Levy’s roots are reminiscent of a character out of a Nick Hornsby novel. Grandfather George Wyle (with Eddie Pola), composed the music for the Christmas standard "The Most Wonderful Time" of the Year, as well as solely composed the music for the theme song to "Gilligan’s Island." Watching his grandfather work on variety shows starring Jerry Lewis, Flip Wilson, Jimmy Durante, and Andy Williams, gave the young Levy a very different view of life in the world of music.
“When I was young, my grandfather started taking me to recording sessions, so my first perception of guitar as a profession wasn’t of Led Zeppelin. It was these guys who wore suits to work and worked normal daytime hours, and at 6:00 the session was over, and they’d get in their cars and go home.”
Photo by Lakrishnaswami
Beginning his music career playing the instrument of his grandfather (the piano), Levy switched from clarinet, and by the age of ten was already settling into what would be the instrument of his career, the guitar.
“I was about ten, and I was at a YMCA summer camp, and the counselors would play songs. It was the first time I had ever seen anyone just stand up in front of a group of 30 or 40 people and just hold court. And just be like, 'okay here are the songs,' and get everyone involved. It was like music was this magic thing, you could just get up and sing songs and people would just get into it.”
From the beginning Levy followed the footsteps of his grandfather in regards to composing.
“I was in my very first band when I was in seventh grade, and we wrote our own music even then. It was my best friend and I. We did not know many chords but we liked to write our own songs.”
After high school, Levy studied at the Dick Grove School of Music for guitar as well as arranging and composing. Armed with natural talent and two years of formal schooling, Levy, ready to burst onto the music scene at the ripe age of twenty, found himself with no one for whom to play.
“I did not know anything about how to get gigs. And that was a huge slap in the face as here I was like, 'okay, I am ready to play, and now what?'”
Photo by Mark Wohlrab
At this point Levy weathered a three year long absence from music in which he supported himself working a variety of jobs before heading to San Francisco, a move that changed his life.
“When I first moved to San Francisco, I was walking by this house about three blocks from where I lived, and heard this jazz drumming from the garage. The next day, I could hear jazz tenor saxophone playing, and the next day it was trombone. So here I am thinking, 'who is this guy?' So one day, I just knocked on the door when I heard the drumming, and it was Kenny Wollesen (Sex Mob).”
Striking up a friendship with the drummer opened up a new world for Levy both personally and professionally.
“Through Kenny I met this bass guitarist Clark, and I used to go and watch him play a lot. This one time he was playing with this guy named Will (Bernard). And Will was like the best guitar player I had ever heard. He was doing exactly what I wanted to do. He had an incredible sound, and played great tunes. His sound just followed you no matter where you were in the club. That is what I wanted to sound like. And so after that show, I got Will’s address from the bassist, and sent him a fan letter. Later, Will called me up, and we became friends.”
The scene from this point on began to develop for Levy, and it was through his friendship with Bernard that he became friends with another young guitarist who had recently returned from Europe, by the name of Charlie Hunter, who would later refer him to Tracy Chapman.
“Charlie and I used to play these gigs at this little place in Berkley called A La Carte. Later, someone in Tracy’s management contacted someone in Charlie’s management, asking him if he knew of anyone who could play this kind of music. Charlie recommended me. I actually had my high school reunion right after the audition, and I really thought I had gotten the gig, and here I am at this reunion, and everyone is asking me what I have been doing. And I didn’t know what to tell everyone. I thought, well, I could tell them that I have been playing a bunch of great jazz gigs in a bunch of tiny clubs in San Francisco with nobody that you have ever heard of, or I could say, well, I am playing with Tracy Chapman. So I sort of fibbed, and told everyone that I just auditioned and got the gig."
Fortunately for Levy, he got the gig. Wanting to get back to his own music was ultimately what led to Levy leaving Chapman’s band. For the young guitarist this, however, was just the beginning of a career of international recognition. Currently Adam is part of the Norah Jones Band, having met the young singer/pianist while in New York City playing in Joey Barron’s band.
“See, I have always had this kind of double life. I have always played in bands like that (with strong female leads). Norah Jones and Tracy are just famous examples of that. But I always knew that I needed to write music and focus on my own career.”
And focusing on his own career he certainly has been doing. Just prior to joining the Norah Jones Band, Adam recorded his first album Buttermilk Channel. As a follow up to that 2001 debut, he is now in the process of finishing up his second album Get Your Glow On, an album which features
Levy’s long-time music partner Rob Burger on keyboards, and Memphis musicians Steve Potts and Dave Smith on drums and bass, respectively, as well as several special guests such as the legendary Otis Clay and the Holmes Brothers.
“It's mostly instrumental - my own modern take on the Booker T sound.
I recorded most of the music in Memphis (though the overdubs were done in New York) and most of the original music I wrote for this project is inspired in some way by Memphis' unique strains of soul, blues, country, and roots rock.”
Fortunately for live music fans, the opportunity to check out Levy live with his touring entourage (Red Young on Hammond organ and Brannen Temple on drums) will soon be available as he kicks of a West Coast tour beginning February 28th in Los Angeles. Cities to follow include Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Eureka, Seattle (with special guest Jessica Lurie), Missoula, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Denver and Austin.
In addition to the West Coast tour, New Yorkers can enjoy seeing Levy live as well in a special performance at Tonic (Friday April 4th). With an abundance of music pals in the city, Levy can be certain to round up the troops and bring out some pretty special guests, making it a must see show.
For tour details and more visit www.adamlevy.com
JamBase | NYC correspondent
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