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Howard Levy Is A One-Man Harmonica Revolution

Howard Levy
Courtesy Howard Levy
/
Howard Levy

When Howard Levy pulls out an ordinary harmonica, extraordinary sounds emerge. From intricate jazz solos to his "Concerto for Diatonic Harmonica and Orchestra,” he's stretched the little instrument beyond its ostensible limits. “Coltrane is my musical hero, along with Bach,” says Levy. “I just always wanted to try to play some of those tunes on the harmonica." In the 1970s, Levy came up with his own technique to play the full chromatic scale on a diatonic harmonica, and his ongoing forty-plus year run of musical experiments was off and running. 

Levy is also a jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, teacher, producer, and in-demand collaborator.  (And since harmonica can be played one-handed, you might catch him playing piano and harmonica simultaneously at his solo concerts.) He co-founded several bands, including Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Trio Globo (with Eugene Friesen and Glen Velez) and the avant-garde jazz trio, Riessler-Levy-Matinier. Levy composes for and directs the Latin jazz group Chévere de Chicago, and records and performs with oud player-composer Rabih Abou Khalil, resonator guitarist Chris Siebold, and jazz pianist Anthony Molinaro. 

"Music can be a political act, it can be a mating call, it can be a mathematical equation. They're notes, but you can imbue those things with any shade of meaning or emotion that you're capable of."

Listen to host John Floridis hustle to keep track of the branching musical creativity of Howard Levy.

(Broadcast: "Musician's Spotlight,"  5/30/19. Listen on the radio Thursdays, 7:30 p.m., or via podcast.)

John Floridis, the host and producer of Musician's Spotlight, has been with Montana Public Radio since 1997. He has interviewed over 200 musicians during that time. He is also an independent recording and performing artist in his own right and a former registered music therapist.
Beth Anne Austein has been spinning tunes on the air (The Folk Show, Dancing With Tradition, Freeforms), as well as recording, editing and mixing audio for Montana Public Radio and Montana PBS, since the Clinton Administration. She’s jockeyed faders or "fixed it in post” for The Plant Detective; Listeners Bookstall; Fieldnotes; Musicians Spotlight; The Write Question; Storycorps; Selected Shorts; Bill Raoul’s music series; orchestral and chamber concerts; lecture series; news interviews; and outside producers’ programs about topics ranging from philosophy to ticks.
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