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Lou Levy: Jazz in Four Colors


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Lou Levy
In November 1955, RCA began ramping up production of 12-inch jazz and pop LPs. Earlier in the decade, RCA had stuck steadfastly to the 45—a format it invented and unveiled in 1949 as a response to Columbia's LP. In addition to releasing 10-inch LPs, RCA issued box sets of 45s in an effort to keep a hand in. But by late 1955, the cost of copyrights for standards favored by pop and jazz artists had become marginal thanks to lower production costs, enabling RCA to shift to the larger LP.

On Nov. 5, 1955, Billboard reported that RCA's jazz department signed Conte Candoli (above), Jack Montrose and Lou Levy. The move was made by Jack Lewis, RCA's pragmatic head of jazz A&R. Larger LPs meant more vinyl to fill, which, in turn, required studio pros who could get the job done in one or two takes. What's more, RCA was setting ambitious production goals for 1956, which meant a need for a longer list of releases. Discount record stores were popping up throughout the country and they had 12-inch racks to fill. During that same week, Lewis announced plans for RCA's now beloved Jazz Workshop series.

Lou Levy's first album for RCA was Solo Scene, recorded in February 1956, followed by Jazz in Four Colors, which was recorded on March 31 and April 2. The album was produced by Shorty Rogers and featured Larry Bunker (vib), Lou Levy (p), Leroy Vinnegar (b) and Stan Levey (d). As Rogers wrote on the back cover in the album's liner notes, “Planing this album, Lou and I spent much time trying to figure out a 'different' instrumentation. This was no small problem in face of the fact that so many albums are being made today. While trying to figure out an instrumentation, Lou went to work on a job that enabled him to renew one of his favorite musical acquaintances: Larry Bunker on vibes. Lou and Larry enjoyed playing together and made a wonderful nucleus for a quartet."

Indeed. Levy and Bunker fit together perfectly. Both were swingers, both were hip soloists and both could move at lightning speed and keep impeccable time. Tune Up, the lead-off track, is a perfect example of how much juice these guys brought to the session. Same goes for Levy's The Gray Fox, Lady Is a Tramp and Barney Kessel's Wail Street. And dig Levy's sly tag of George Wallington's Godchild in Star Eyes.

Levy recorded seven albums in all for RCA between February 1956 and until January 1957—sessions where he was the leader and where he appeared on Robers' sessions. In an era of impossibly brilliant pianists on both coasts. Levy is too often overlooked today as just another Hollywood keyboard player. In truth, Levy was among the finest and tastiest West Coast players who could work with anyone who came to swing.

Levy died in 2001.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Lou Levy's Jazz in Four Colors here.

JazzWax clip: Here's Tune Up


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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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