The clouds of war were gathering over Europe in 1937, when Milcho Leviev was born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. His journey to jazz fame had begun and he recalls it thusly: "During W.W.II Bulgaria was, for the most part, a fascist country, on the German side. My father was Jewish, but the Bulgarian Jews didn't go to the gas chambers, they were saved, like the Danish Jews. When the war ended I was 7. I experienced some bombing of my town at the end of the war; Hitler ordered Bulgaria to declare war on the USA! It was proper at that time for middle class family kids, war or no war, to have music lessons, so my brother started first. We had an old upright on which I started picking out tunes from that time, you know, from the big band era, but of course I didn't know, for example, that "In The Mood" was a 12 bar blues. My awareness of jazz, as an art form, came much later in my teens. A violinist friend of mine, who played jazz piano on the side, was actually one of my first teachers. I started listening every midnight to the 2 hours program "Voice of America" - Willis Conover's jazz radio show. What turned me on to jazz first, was not the big bands, or be bop, (I couldn't hear at first what Bird was doing) but the later, cool stuff - Miles & Gil, Bill Evans, and especially M. J. Q."
In 1960 Leviev graduated from the State Music Academy in Sofia, eventually becoming the Musical Director for the state drama theater, and the Bulgarian radio and television big band. He also led the "Jazz Focus" Quartet which won a prize at the first Montreaux festival in 1967. He moved to Los Angeles in '70 and became a U.S. citizen in 1977. In the years from 71-77 He began a memorable stint with Don Ellis. Leviev remembers:
"The biggest impression a jazz musician had on me between 1955 (the year I started listening to jazz) and 1970, was Don Ellis. His orchestra was the first jazz group I saw in America, not only saw, but had the pleasure to occupy its keyboard chair for 7 years. I'll say one thing about Don: he could play New Orleans jazz as good as Wynton, (if not better), but his musicality led him to new, unexplored things with the time elements in music. He studied the folk music of India,Turkey, Bulgaria, and achieved highest results in terms of swinging, and grooving on odd meters. So, imagine what this was for me: a dream come true. I not only played, I wrote for the band. We recorded a double disk LP, "Tears of Joy", live in 1971, (Columbia never released it on CD) - a lot of our highest quality music was played then."