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His professional development as a composer began at the Drama Theatre in Plovdiv. He was appointed conductor of the big band of Bulgarian National Radio after Emil Georgiev left office (1962–66). His ideas were innovative in the orchestra; pieces like Studia, Blues in 9 or Anti-waltz combined folklore and jazz. From 1963 to 1968 he worked as soloist and conductor of the Sofia and Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1965, embracing the idea of the writer Radoy Ralin, he founded Jazz Focus '65 with which he toured until 1970, achieving success for Bulgarian jazz and winning prizes at jazz festivals in Montreux, Sofia, and Prague.
In 1970 he left Bulgaria for political reasons and moved to Los Angeles. He was allowed to perform in Bulgaria not earlier than 1980.
He worked as composer, arranger, and pianist for Don Ellis (1970–1975) Orchestra and the Billy Cobham Band (1971–77). He toured the U.S. and Europe; he was music director for Lainie Kazan (1977–80). He gave concerts and recorded with John Klemmer, Art Pepper, and Roy Haynes. He toured Europe with Pepper (1980–82) and was one of the founders of the fusion band Free Flight. In 1983 he became music director of the Jazz Sessions at the Comeback Inn in Venice, California. He gave concerts in Japan with bassist Dave Holland (1983–86) and organized solo jazz recitals in Europe (1985–86). He has taught jazz composition at the University of South California and given master classes at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia. He has composed symphony and chamber works, big band, and jazz orchestra music. In the 1960s he wrote film music.
He died on 12 October 2019 in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Awards and honors
As a student, he won second prize at the International Competition in Vienna for his Toccatina for piano. In 1987 he won the Drama-Logue Award for best music director given by the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. Some of his works were published by Dick Grove Publications and the Bulgarian publishing house Nauka I Izkustvo (up to 1968). He won a prize at the National Jazz Educational Congress, a Grammy Award for arrangement, and the Honorary Gold Medal of the Académie internationale des Arts in Paris (1995). He was awarded an honorary Doctor Honoris Causa by the Academy of Music, Dance and Fine Arts in Plovdiv (1995) and by the New Bulgarian University.
- Blue Levis (Dobre, 1978)
- What's New (Atlas, 1980)
- Blues for the Fisherman (Mole Jazz, 1980)
- True Blues (Mole Jazz, 1981)
- Plays the Music of Irving Berlin (Discovery, 1982)
- Music for Big Band and Symphony Orchestra (Trend, 1983)
- Piano Lesson (Dobre, 1987)
- Destination (Optimism, 1987)
- Bulgarian Piano Blues (MA, 1990)
- The Oracle with Dave Holland (Pan Music, 1992)
- Up & Down with Dave Holland (MA, 1993)
- Jive Sambas (Vartan Jazz, 1997)
- Man from Plovdiv (MA, 1999)
- Quiet Love with Vicky Almazidu (Ethnic Art, 2004)
- Multiple Personalities (Mighty Quinn, 2006)
- Quiet March (Perfect, 2015)
With Billy Cobham
With Don Ellis
With Roy Haynes
With Gerald Wilson
With Dusan Bogdanovic
- Winter Tale (Doberman - Yppan, 2008)
- Al Jarreau, Breakin' Away (Warner Bros., 1981)
- Arif Mardin, Journey (Atlantic, 1974)
- Airto Moreira, Virgin Land (Salvation, 1974)
- L. Subramaniam, Fantasy without Limits (Trend, 1980)
- Harris, Craig. "Milcho Leviev". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- "Milcho Leviev". All About Jazz. 2008-04-11. Archived from the original on 2009-12-17. Retrieved 2010-05-09.