Tony Levin (June 6, 1946)
It’s sometimes easier to list the artists and albums that Levin hasn’t played on or with such is the breadth and depth of a professional career that began in the 1960s and which continues to this day. Notable among his early performances was an appearance with the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra when they played on the south lawn of the White House in April 1962.
After abandoning a potential career in classical music, from 1968 onwards Levin immersed himself in the world of jazz, working with a variety of luminaries including Herbie Mann and Buddy Rich. By the mid-70s, his ability to read music and work with speed and efficiency endeared him to many producers, garnering appearances on albums by artists as diverse as Paul Simon, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Ringo Starr, Judy Collins, Lou Reed, Robbie Robertson, Pink Floyd, Yes (Anderson Wakeman Bruford Howe), John Lennon and David Bowie and many, many others.
In 1977, having previously worked with producer Bob Ezrin, Levin was drafted in for Peter Gabriel’s debut solo album, which also featured Robert Fripp. From hereon Levin began a partnership with Gabriel that has endured for nearly 50 years. The Gabriel connection also had the benefit of introducing him to Robert Fripp which led to him contributing to Exposure in 1979 and subsequently becoming a member of the new Discipline/King Crimson configuration of 1981.
Between 1995 - 1997 Levin was part of Crimson in its Double Trio and the subsequent projeKcts as well as forming his own short-lived but highly regarded side project, Bruford Levin Upper Extremities featuring Bruford, guitarist David Torn and trumpeter Chris Botti. Levin was not part of the Double Duo incarnation of King Crimson that operated between 1999 and 2003 having been asked by Fripp to become ‘the fifth man’ ie nominally a member but a non-playing one. After Trey Gunn’s departure, in 2004 Levin took part in rehearsals with the remaining Crims though these failed to lead to a new band. Levin next Crimsonised in 2008 for the short-lived pre-40th anniversary tour that also featured new recruit, drummer Gavin Harrison.
In 2013 Fripp announced a new 7-piece King Crimson which once again included Levin, who, in 2014, spoke about his approach to playing the older repertoire from the 1970s as well as the formidable parts devised by Trey Gunn such as Level Five and The ConstruKction of Light. “The more I play them the more I feel that those pieces are the best bass music that’s been written for touch guitar. That means two things: First, I’m really glad that I get learn them and play them, and secondly, in the end, in the big picture, I’m actually glad that I wasn’t in that band. For a long time, I felt that of course, I wished I was doing it…I was somewhat honoured to be called ‘the fifth man.’ Now, with a historical look at these parts, the more I play them I feel like I’m really glad I wasn’t there, because Trey got to fully be the bass player in King Crimson which he could never completely do with the two of us doing the bass parts, and what he came up with is something that would never have happened in the way it did if I had been there. History can be funny in that way.”
A consummate photographer with several books and exhibitions of his work to his name, Levin continues to maintain a life on the road that would put musicians half his age to shame, constantly touring principally with The Levin Brothers, a jazz quartet with his keyboard-playing brother, Pete and with Stick Men. Combining original material and interpretations of Crimson repertoire, the trio also features Pat Mastelotto and touch guitarist Markus Reuter.
Tony Levin with King Crimson
Three Of A Perfect Pair