Jim McFalls is the Band Director for the Jazz/Commercial Studies Division at Towson University. As such, he plays a key role in the musical development of aspiring jazz students under his charge. Yet it is obvious that no task is more important to him than the stewardship of the University’s Big Band Ensemble.
For as any local jazz student who began playing in the seventies knows, this was the band founded by the immortal Hank Levy. The master of odd-meters, Mr. Levy’s legacy went far beyond the walls of then Towson State University. Need proof. We found this link under Stan Kenton’s website. Notice the salutation at the head of Hank Levy’s bio.
Evey Jazz Composer to ever write will compare himself to one man … Hank Levy.
Levy joined the Stan Kenton band in the early fifties. He began his career with Kenton as a baritone sax player, eventually contributing compositions. During the seventies, each of Kenton’s albums contained at least one Hank Levy song.
During the sixties he began writing for the Don Ellis Band. One of Hank’s first compositions for the band, “Passacaglia And Fugue,” shows up on the band’s immortal 1966 recording, “Live at Monterey.” Ellis and Levy were a natural fit, since both musician/composers recognized jazz as the perfect medium for songs written in odd-time meters.
When Kenton began using new Levy compositions during the seventies, many have reported a near mini-revolt from the band’s musicians. They were different, hard to play; and until the musicians obtained a firm grasp of the music, even harder to understand.
Ironically, these compositions were of the same scope and difficulty Levy would write for his growing crop of students at then Towson State University. Jim McFalls allowed that Towson State did not allow Hank much of a budget in those days. With the inability to purchase music his students could play, he began composing charts in earnest. Subsequently, many of Levy’s best compositions were borne out of a necessity to give his students challenging, yet learnable scores with which to hone their skills.
As proof of Hank Levy’s voracious appetite for composing during these years, ten large file cabinets sit against a wall in McFalls’ office filled with Levy’s charts. Though Hank Levy retired from Towson University in 1991, he still wrote, and remained active in jazz circles in and around Baltimore until his death in 2001.
Today, the Hank Levy Legacy Band carries on his decades of work. The band began years before Hank Levy’s death as the Hank Levy Alumni Band. The band now contains former students, as well as new followers to Hank Levy’s unique musical style. We found an enticing YouTube video of the band performing “Passacaglia and Fugue,” to which we have linked. On the page you can find other videos of the band’s perfomances. We have also included a link to Don Ellis performing Levy’s Whiplash, another favorite.
A plaque hangs outside Jim McFalls’ Towson University office. It is a lasting tribute to Hank Levy. Yet the real tribute we observed came during a sit-down with Jim in his office a couple weeks ago. Despite the international renown Jim McFalls has garnered throughout his career – which includes a 2008 Grammy Award – one of the proudest moments of his life was the day the university asked him if he would be interested in leading Hank Levy’s former band. He jumped at the chance.
Last week we told you of the upcoming Jazz Festival that will be held January 21 and January 22, 2011 at Towson University. The Hank Levy Legacy Band will be performing on Saturday evening the 22nd. This is a great chance for any Hank Levy fan to see his music performed as he imagined it. We will also keep you updated on the band’s future performances as they draw closer.