Fall 2015

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Photo courtesy of Artist Works

Howard Levy: Harmonica Master

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Watch Levy and son perform with Gray at the Whiskey Lounge at 27 Live in Evanston.

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Howard Levy ’73 distinctly remembers the first time he “bent a note” on his harmonica — a moment he calls “the blues harmonica equivalent of losing your virginity.” It was in September 1969, after attending a rally for the Chicago Seven in Harris Hall, that he found his voice on the instrument. Levy, who dropped out during sophomore year to pursue a professional music career in his native New York City, went on to pioneer a new musical style. He filled in the missing notes on the diatonic harmonica using the “overblow/overdraw” technique. “He routinely achieves technical feats on the instrument that always were considered impossible,” says Howard Reich ’77, a veteran arts critic at the Chicago Tribune. Over his more than 40-year career, Levy has been featured on more than 300 recordings, won two Grammys and composed the first concerto for the diatonic harmonica. He co-founded the bluegrass-fusion group Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. He now teaches harmonica to more than 250 students through the online music school www.ArtistWorks.com. His most recent recording is First Takes, a CD of jazz improvs and spontaneous compositions featuring bassist Larry Gray and Levy’s son Miles on drums. (Watch Levy and son perform with Gray at the Whiskey Lounge at 27 Live in Evanston.)