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Innovative Arranger for Kenton and OthersCopyright © 2001
Hank Levy was best known for his work as a jazz composer and arranger, notably with bands led by Don Ellis and Stan Kenton, and later for his work as a jazz educator.
Henry J. Levy graduated from the City College in Baltimore, and studied at the College of William and Mary, the Peabody Conservatory, the Catholic University of America, and Towson University, where he received his doctorate. He attended the Navy School of Music during his military service in the late 1940s.
He joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra as a baritone saxophonist in 1953. Although the job lasted only six months, he remained on friendly terms with Kenton, and became an arranger for the band in 1969. He had arranged for Sal Salvador and Don Ellis in the 1960s.
He was interested in giving jazz what he called "a kick in the rear end" by using odd meters like 5/4, 7/4, 9/4 and 13/8, and by employing unusual harmonies and voicings. His music was considered difficult to master but rewarding to play by the various bands with which he was associated, including his own groups.
He wrote a number of large scale compositions, including his Opus for Overextended Jazz Ensemble, which was premiered by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 1971.
He joined his family's gourmet food and wine shop in Baltimore after leaving Kenton in 1963, and was an expert in fine wines. In 1968, he gave up his role in the business to take up a full-time appointment teaching jazz at Towson University, where he is credited with establishing the jazz program and college band as among the best in the country. He retired in 1989 after 21 years as head of the department.
A video documentary on his life and work, A Head of Time: Ahead of Time, was completed in 2000, made by Audio Visual Artist's Productions. The owner of the company, Dick Slade, became an admirer when he heard Levy's arrangements on a Kenton album in 1972.
He died of congestive heart failure. His wife, Gloria, predeceased him in 1996.