Stan Levey

Stan Levey

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April 19, 2005 (Age 79) died

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April 5, 1926 Birthday

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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. Birthplace

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Stan Levey was an influential jazz drummer and one of the pioneers of bebop. A self-taught prodigy, he began his career in the early 1940s playing with bop greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. He spent time with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic showcase, led his own groups, and in 1952 joined Stan Kenton's Orchestra. The group had a widely acclaimed tour through Europe, but broke up while in Los Angeles in 1954. Levey chose to remain in LA and took what would end up becomming a 5 year gig with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. He also began working frequently as a studio musician. Levey performed on over 2,000 recordings working with world-class vocalist such as Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand. He also played on the sound tracks of over 300 movies and more than 3,000 TV show episodes. In 1973 Levey retired from the music business and turned his longtime photography hobby into a full-time job. His photographs included fashion spreads, industrial work and quite a few album covers. Stan Levey died from cancer in 2005 at the age of 79.


Stan Levey played the drums left-handed even though he was actually right handed. Stan Levey boxed professionally for several years in the 1940s; he fought at Madison Square Gardens and appeared on the same bill as Joe Lewis. Dizzy Gillespie referred to Stan Levey as "the original original" and Levey used it as the title of his self-produced DVD "The Original Original: The Jazz Bop Pioneer Tells His Story."

Early Life

Adolph Stanley Levey, the son of a car dealer and fight promoter, was born in 1926 in Philadelphia. Growing up in and around gyms, he had an ear for music and taught himself to play the drums. At the age of 16, Levey impressed Dizzy Gillespie enough to let him sit in at a local Philly club, and Gillespie immediately hired him as his drummer. Despite criticism from some musicians for hiring a white, Jewish, 16-year-old drummer, Gillespie famously quipped, "Show me a better black drummer, and I'll hire him." Levey dropped out of high school to pursue his music career, working at his father's dealership during the day and performing at night. Gillespie urged him to move to New York City, which he did in 1943, where he was soon playing musicians like Oscar Pettiford, Thelonious Monk, and Art Tatum.