Hank Levy (Henry Jacob Levy; 27 September 1927 – September 18, 2001) was a Jewish American jazz composer and saxophonist whose works often employed unusual time signatures. He is best known as a big band composer for Stan Kenton and the Don Ellis Orchestra, as well as the founder and long-time director of Towson University’s Jazz Program.
Life and career
Levy was born in Baltimore. His interest in odd meters pre-dated Dave Brubeck's Time Out album. He studied composition with George Thaddeus Jones at Catholic University in Washington, DC, and became interested in odd meters through their use by such composers as Paul Hindemith, Maurice Ravel, and Igor Stravinsky. He was also a particularly good composer of counterpoint, which can be heard in such compositions as Passacaglia and Fugue (recorded by Don Ellis on "Live At Monterey") and Quintessence (performed, but not recorded by, Stan Kenton).
Levy was also prolific as an arranger of jazz standards, though few of them were published during his lifetime. He was especially fond of the music of the stage as it came through bebop: Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern. In his last years, he more frequently turned to bebop originals, tunes by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron. Though the odd meters he was associated with rarely appeared in these arrangements, and were typically conventional in respect to style, they often displayed a distinctive creativity.
Levy began his full-time college teaching career at Towson State University in late 1967 creating "The Towson State Jazz Ensemble". By 1970, his hard work and passion for teaching brought the band to national prominence when his Towson State Jazz Ensemble competed and won the outstanding band honors at the prestigious Notre Dame Jazz Festival. Additional honors went to Levy's lead trumpet player, Tony Neenan who was voted "Best Lead Trumpet" of the festival.
Today, Levy's music is performed by the Hank Levy Legacy Band , based in Towson, Maryland. The band was founded in 1992 following his retirement from full-time teaching. The band has recorded two live CD's: Hank At Home (2000) and An "Odd-Time" Was Had By All (2004), both distributed by Sonority Records.
A handful of Levy's works are still in print through various distributors. His most well-known works, those recorded by Stan Kenton and originally published through Creative World, are now distributed by Sierra Music Publications, headed by Robert Curnow, another Kenton composer.
While Levy was director in 1975, the Towson State Jazz Ensemble recorded "2 + 2 = 5", an album of six of his compositions for the Music Minus One label, which specializes in recordings leaving out the part for one instrument so a musician can play along. The recording comprised Levy compositions, all but one in odd meter: Bop City Revisited, Poopsie's Penthouse, A Quiet Friday, Pete Is a Four-Letter Word, Bread and Watrous, and Stillness Runs Deep. (MMO still offers the version minus trombone.) Personnel on the recording who also have performed with the Hank Levy Alumni Band include Steve Ashcraft (drums) and Ray Disney (trumpet).
Levy died in Parkville, Maryland.
The 2014 jazz film Whiplash takes its title from Levy's composition, portions of which are played several times during the course of the picture.
- "Abovo" 7/4 and 13/4 (performed by Don Ellis)
- "Ambivalence" (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Antea" 7/4 (recorded by Don Ellis)
- "Blues, Between and Betwixt" 7/4 and 7/8 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Bread and Watrous" (performed by Bill Watrous)
- "Chain Reaction" 13/8 (recorded by Don Ellis on Connection (Columbia, 1972))
- "Chiapas" 5/4 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Comin' on Strong"
- "Decoupage" 5/4 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Down and Dirty" 5/4 and 10/8 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Down Home Cookin'"
- "Early Riser" 7/4
- "Enter Stage Left" 5/4
- "Fringe Benefit" (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Hank's Opener" 7/4 and 14/8 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Indra" 9/4 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Journey into Capricorn" 5/4 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Latintensity" 12/8
- "Little Girl Blue" 4/4
- "Of Space and Time" 5/4 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Passacaglia & Fugue" 3/4 and 4/4 (recorded by Don Ellis on Don Ellis Orchestra 'Live' at Monterey! (Pacific Jazz, 1967))
- "Pegasus" 6/8 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Quintessence" 5/4 (performed by Stan Kenton)
- "Rock Odyssey" 7/4 and 12/4 (recorded by Don Ellis on Don Ellis at Fillmore (Columbia, 1970))
- "Samba Bajada" 9/4 (recorded by Don Ellis on Tears of Joy (Columbia, 1971))
- "Samba Siete" 7/4 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Smith Named Greg", A 4/4 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Southern Exposure" 5/4
- "A Step Beyond" 5/4 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Thetis" 4/4 (recorded by Don Ellis on Live in 3⅔/4 Time (Pacific Jazz, 1967))
- "Time for a Change" 9/4 (recorded by Stan Kenton)
- "Whiplash" 7/4 and 14/8 (recorded by Don Ellis on Soaring (MPS, 1973))
- "With the Old Man in Mind" 5/4
- "Would You Believe" 4/4
- Official Hank Levy Jazz Home page [www.HankLevyJazz.com]
- Hank Levy Legacy Band
- Hank Levy biography
- Hank Levy Jazz
- Sierra Music Publications 
- Biographical Dictionary of Jazz, by Charles Eugene Claghorn, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ (1982)
- The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies, by Leonard Feather & Ira Gitler, Horizon Press, New York (1976)