There may not be another performer quite like keyboardist Pete Levin, who has not only played a wide range of sounds in and out of popular music, but made his mark as a substantial jazz player. Levin was born December 20, 1942, in Boston, and his parents were not musicians but loved music and shared that. His brother is Tony Levin, a renowned jazz and rock electric bass guitarist and master of the Chapman stick, who has also played with many well-known artists. The Levin siblings came up through a public school system in Brookline, MA, that was very supportive of music. Early influences included Julius Watkins, Art Tatum, Spike Jones, Stan Freberg, Bill Evans, Richard Tee, Herbie Hancock, Billy Preston, Ray Charles, Larry Young, and Jimmy Smith. Pete Levin came into music playing the French horn, and his school department head, John Corley, also directed the concert band at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and played with the MIT band as a ringer for two years. Corley and Osbourne MacConathy, the second horn with the Boston Symphony and conductor with the Sarah Caldwell Opera Company, inspired Levin to enroll at the Juilliard School of Music and begin a professional career. The Levin brothers produced an early claim to fame along with drummer Steve Gadd with the Top 40 hit single "Close to You" by the Clams, a Spike Jones tribute band.
Upon moving to New York City in the '70s, he met Gil Evans and recorded and performed with his renowned progressive jazz orchestra for over 15 years, first as a French horn player but eventually on electric keyboards. When Levin brought a Moog synthesizer to a performance at New York's Village Vanguard, Evans embraced the new tone colors. It was then that Levin's role was permanently changed as the big band transformed itself into an electric-acoustic hybrid ensemble that captivated audiences, and the group also received two Grammy awards along the way. Levin added Clavinet, and eventually Evans brought John Clark into the band to play French horn so Levin could concentrate on electric keyboards. In 1990, Levin signed with Gramavision Records to release his first solo jazz album, Party in the Basement, followed by Solitary Man in 1991. Collaborating with drummer Danny Gottlieb, he released The New Age of Christmas on the Atlantic label and Masters in This Hall, again for Gramavision. In the years to follow, he released four new age CDs for Alternate Mode Productions. Becoming an in-demand New York session keyboardist, Levin has also created electronic realizations for hundreds of TV commercials, dramatic series, and feature films, including Missing in Action, Lean on Me, Silver Bullet, Red Scorpion, The Color of Money, Maniac, Spin City, America's Most Wanted, and contemporary versions of the Star Trek series. Levin also composed orchestral scores for the feature film Zelimo and a stage production of The Dybbuk, and wrote the anthem for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit. He is the co-composer/orchestrator for The Discovery Channel TV film Secrets of the Humpback Whale and a composer/arranger for the TV series America's Most Wanted and the long-running soap opera The Guiding Light.
A "short" list of the many musicians Pete Levin has worked with includes Gary Anderson, Aztec Two-Step, Dave Bargeron, Joe Beck, Jeff Berlin, Terence Blanchard, Carla Bley, Blood, Sweat & Tears, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Brubeck Brothers, Hiram Bullock, Donald Byrd, John Cariddi, Jay Chattaway, Jimmy Cobb, Billy Cobham, Judy Collins, Ernie Colon, Willie Colón, Commander Cody, Miles Davis, Mike DeMicco, Kenwood Dennard, Robbie Dupree, Mark Egan, Don Elliott, Miles Evans, the Fania All-Stars, Rachelle Ferrell, Bryan Ferry, Alex Foster, Gov't Mule, Richie Hart, Jonas Hellborg, Deborah Henson-Conant, Gregory Hines, Freddie Hubbard, Chris Hunter, Howard Johnson, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Arnie Lawrence, Erik Lawrence, Annie Lennox, Albert McDowell, Mike Mainieri, Melissa Manchester, Chuck Mangione, Gap Mangione, the Manhattan Project, Lou Marini, Keith Marks, Liza Minnelli, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Amina Claudine Myers, Bob Nieske, Olivia Newton-John, New York Mary, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Shunzo Ohno, Pieces of a Dream, Jaco Pastorius, Jim Pugh & Dave Taylor, Tony Purrone, Robbie Robertson, Teri Roiger, Bobby Rydell, Ali Ryerson, Salt-N-Pepa, David Sanborn, John Scofield, Marlena Shaw, Wayne Shorter, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Lew Soloff, Harvey Sorgen, Melvin Sparks, Artie Traum, Happy Traum, Michal Urbaniak, Lou Volpe, Ernie Watts, Vanessa Williams, and Lenny White. After the death of Gil Evans, Levin moved to upstate New York to reside in Woodstock. Returning to his first love of instruments, he played the B-3 and Nord Clavia organ in a contemporary soul-jazz mode, and Motema Records issued Deacon Blues in 2007, which was followed by Levin's independent release Certified Organic in 2008. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi