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    Levy, Jesse

    Ubiquitous cellist who got his career out of the starting gates quickly by appearing on the Grammy-winning record, “Midnight Train to Georgia”, recorded in 1973 by Gladys Knight & The Pips. 

     

    In 1974, he collaborated with Bob James on his laconically titled One and Two, offered string support on Stanley Clarke’s eponymous album, and shared the studio with Tennyson Stephens and Phil Upchurch for Upchurch/Tennyson, which was completed in 1975. 

     

    America’s bicentennial year was a busy one for Jesse:  He did Soul Searching with the Average White Band, two albums apiece with Van McCoy, The Real McCoy and Rhythms of the World, and Jimmy McGriff, The Mean Machine and Red Beans, and recorded material with Stanley Turrentine that would be included on no fewer than three albums:  Brazilian Horizons, Vol. 2, The Man with the Sad Face, and Stanley Turrentine with Strings. 

     

    In 1977, he reunited with Jimmy McGriff on Tailgunner, recorded Havana Candy with Patti Austin, and was an erstwhile member of Bionic Boogie, a disco outfit assembled by saxophonist Gregg Diamond.  He was responsible for putting together not one, but two orchestras for Shawn Phillips’ Transcendence, arranged by Michael Kamen and released in 1978:  The same year found him on Sesame Street with the likes of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for a pair of children’s albums, On the Street Where We Live – Block Party! and Sesame Street Fever; he also appeared on the soundtrack of The Wiz.  Around the same time, he played cello on Chaka Khan’s eponymous solo album, Chaka. 

     

    In 1979, he went undercover with Carly Simon on Spy, rejoined The Muppets for Sesame Disco!, and was one of the legion of session musicians on Frank Sinatra’s boxed set, Trilogy.  He celebrated the Yuletide with Meco on Christmas in the Stars:  Star Wars Christmas Album, did a pair of Spyro Gyra albums, Carnaval and Catching the Sun, and appeared on the soundtrack of Fame, all released in 1980. 

     

    In 1980, he also found time to serve as a tone judge in The Violin Society of America Competition.  He put on his arranger’s hat for Blue Oyster Cult’s 1981 release, Fire of Unknown Origin.  In 1982, he recorded Syms by Sinatra with Frank Sinatra and Sylvia Sims.  He was a member of the string section on The Wild Heart by Stevie Nicks and Hearts and Bones by Paul Simon, both of which hit the shelves in 1983. 

     

    In 1984, he played cello on The Age of Consent by Bronski Beat.  Then, he helped Aretha Franklin Get it Right in 1986.  In 1987, he performed on Victoria Williams’ Happy Come Home.  He then worked in Collaboration with Gil Evans and Helen Merrill, and Patti Smith on Dream of Life, both released in 1988. 

     

    In 1990, he appeared on three stylistically divergent albums, Deep Purple’s Slaves & Masters, My Romance by Carly Simon, and Copland Conducts Copland.  He offered Hope with Rick Margitza and took a Flight to Freedom with Arturo Sandoval in 1991.  In 1992, he contracted and conducted the orchestra on Tony Bennett’s Sinatra tribute, Perfectly Frank. 

     

    He was back in the cellist’s chair for the 1993 albums, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet by Gavin Bryars, Dragonfly Summer by Michael Franks, and The Who’s Tommy:  Original Cast Recording.  In 1994, he appeared on the Lena Horne album, We’ll Be Together Again, and was together again with Frank Sinatra on Duets II.  Around this time, he served as arranger and conductor on LL Cool J’s 14 Shots to the Dome. 

     

    In 1995, he appeared on another Spyro Gyra album, Love & Other Obsessions.  He also stayed on board for their 1996 release, Heart of the Night:  The same year, his name could be found on a pair of self-named albums, Kenny Lattimore and LL Cool J; He also performed on the soundtrack of the Woody Allen musical, Everyone Says I Love You. 

     

    On 26th September 1997, he served as String Coordinator for the MTV special, Bryan Adams:  Unplugged.  He then appeared on the soundtrack of the Edward Burns film, No Looking Back, starring Jon Bon Jovi, and the concert DVD, PNYC:  Portishead – Roseland New York, both released in 1998.  In 1999, he changed tacks again on Dawn Upshaw Sings Vernon Duke, and was in the studio recording Jelena Ana Milcetic a.k.a. Helen Merrill, released in the following year. 

     

    The new millennium found Jesse again working on a wide variety of projects:  John Pizzarelli’s Let There Be Love, Britney Spears’ Oops!.. I Did it Again, A Copland Celebration, Vol. 1, and Color, Rhythm, and Magic, a concept album featuring jazz renditions of Disney tunes; He was also credited as a church cellist in the Woody Allen comedy, Small Time Crooks.  In 2001, he contributed his cello stylings to Denyce Graves’ American Anthem – Songs and Hymns, Bright Eyed Joy:  The Songs of Ricky Ian Gordon and The Concert for New York City. 

     

    He attended and performed at the Harold Coletta Memorial on 1st December 2002 at CAMI Hall in New York City, in tandem with pianist Abba Bogin, a program that comprised Gabriel Faure’s “Elegie”, Paul Hindemith’s “Meditation”, and Francesca Maria Veracini’s “Largo”.  In 2003, teamed up with Aretha Franklin on her So Damn Happy CD and rang in Christmas with Whitney Houston on One Wish:  The Holiday Album. 

     

    One of his stranger gigs was at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts, held on 13th July 2004:  In addition to playing cello, he was pressed into service to help move the scenery, as well as sort of playing a character opposite dancer Martine van Hamel. 

     

    In 2005, he joined several other artists for the CD Our New Orleans, the proceeds from which went to Habitat for Humanity to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.  He was a musical guest of honor at the inauguration of Dr. Karen Gross as the eighth president of Southern Vermont College on 18th November 2006, in a program entitled “Shostakovich and Schumann – Political and Personal Demons”.  The following year, he appeared on David Spinozza’s self-titled CD, Spinozza. 

     

    In 2008, his plate was full with live appearances:  he performed with Bucky Pizzarelli and the Statesmen of Jazz at the National Museum of Natural History and the Maxim Anikushin Chamber Ensemble in concerts at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, the Ico Gallery, and Yamaha Artist Services in New York City. 

     

    Jesse’s prolific recording career has not gone unrewarded:  The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences bestowed their Most Valuable Player Award upon him seven years in a row.

     

    Van McCoy recordings

    The Shuffle (Van McCoy) 

    That’s the Joint (Richard Harris/Van McCoy)

     

    Frank Sinatra recordings

    That's What God Looks Like To Me (Stan Irvin/Lan O'Kun)

    Reprise RPS 49233 (XNY2101S) (US 45)

     

    Theme from "New York, New York" (Fred Ebb/John Kander)

    Reprise RPS49233 (XNY 2103 S) (US 45)

     

    Sources:

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    29. http://cgi.ebay.com
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    45. http://www.celebritypro.com/media/jon_bon_jovi/movie/No_Looking_Back-B00004YA1F.html
    46. http://www.shopfreeatmacys.com
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    49. http://www.villagevoice.com/2004-07-13/dance/what-price-youth/
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    51. http://www.nonesuch.com/albums/our-new-orleans
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    54. http://blog.livedoor.jp/funky_alligator/archives/51212661.html
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    58. http://www.nypl.org/research/calendar/eventdesc.cfm?id=4713
    59. http://www.lensemble.org/artist-guest.html

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     



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