Oral Histories

Interview of Stanley Levey

Jazz drummer.
Beyond Central: Stanley Levey
Beyond Central
African American History
Biographical Note:
Jazz drummer.
Cline, Alex
Levey, Stanley
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, series coordinator, UCLA Oral History Program; musician.Cline prepared for the interview by consulting jazz histories, autobiographies, oral histories, and relevant periodicals, listened to recordings, and viewed personal archival material when made available.
Interviewee Retained Copyright
Series Statement:
Interviews in this series extend the UCLA Oral History Program's "Central Avenue Sounds" series and preserve the spoken memories of musicians who were active in the jazz music scene in Los Angeles from the 1950s to the 1970s. This series includes a broad range of interviewees, some of whom are well known and others who may be less known, who were chosen to document their specific point of view, contribution, role, or experience. Particular areas of focus include the African American musicians' community and the development and emergence of the so-called jazz avant-garde in Los Angeles.
Family background and childhood in Philadelphia—Levey’s introduction to music and playing the drums—First job as a musician with Dizzy Gillespie—Levey’s lack of formal training as a musician—Early experiences playing in Philadelphia—Leaves school early to work, box, and play music—Moves to New York City to play with Gillespie’s band—Early experiences in New York include hearing Max Roach and recording with Art Tatum—Levey is befriended by Charlie Parker, who introduces Levey to heroin—More on his early experiences in New York—Miles Davis—Gillespie’s band with Levey, Parker, Al Haig, and Ray Brown begins to tour in 1945, including dates at Billy Berg’s in Los Angeles—Venues in which early bebop bands performed—Changes in drumming styles and drum equipment—The trip across the country to Los Angeles with Gillespie’s band—The severity of Parker’s drug problems while he was in Los Angeles—How Levey kicked his drug habit—Impressions of Los Angeles jazz musicians of the mid-forties—Return to New York City—More on Los Angeles jazz musicians—Leaves Gillespie’s band and freelances around New York—More on Levey’s lack of formal training—Death of Levey’s father, David Levey—Levey’s relationship as an adult with his mother, Esther Hoffman Levey— Musicians Levey knew in Philadelphia during the early forties—Required skills for playing drums in a big band—Works for Benny Goodman—Ben Webster fires Levey and Charlie Parker for playing with him in the bebop style—More on how Levey kicked his drug habit—Marries Angela Weylan—Joins Stan Kenton’s band—Encounter with narcotics commissioner Harry J. Anslinger—More on Levey’s marriage—Leaves the Kenton band for a steady gig at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California—Settles in Los Angeles—Impressions of Los Angeles jazz musicians in the mid-fifties—West Coast style versus New York style jazz—Other Los Angeles musicians of the period—More on Los Angeles musicians of the period—Ornette Coleman—Other Los Angeles musicians of the period—West Coast record company executives—Levey begins doing work in Hollywood studios—Jazz clubs around Los Angeles during the fifties and sixties—Movies and television shows on which Levey worked as a percussionist—Takes up photography to make a better, less stressful living—Outstanding jazz musicians whom Levey knew and with whom he worked—More on his change of career— More on the jazz scene of the fifties and its decline in the late sixties—Views on the resurgence of a more traditional approach to playing jazz—Jazz education—Levey’s sons and their careers—Levey’s photography business—More about Miles Davis—The birth of bebop—More about the Lighthouse—More on Levey’s involvement in Hollywood studio work—The durability of good jazz music—More on Max Roach—More on Levey’s decision to retire from playing music—Howard Rumsey—African American musicians in Los Angeles who made inroads into Hollywood studio work during the fifties—The future of jazz in the hands of current younger players—Levey is visited by Charlie Watts, drummer of the Rolling Stones, in 2003—Attends the Stones’ concert in Los Angeles and meets the band members—More on Ornette Coleman—Eric Dolphy—Great jazz musicians who were natives of Los Angeles—Major health scares which Levey survived.