Dan Levinson: The Indispensable Reedman

If it would be possible for a virtuoso reedman to step out of a jazz 78 in a kind of “Purple Rose of Cairo” moment, that person would be clarinetist Dan Levinson. He has been performing for over 30 years, but he has been performing music that dates back to the ’teens (the 1910s, that is), faithfully recreating the original styles even as he adds his own original voice to the mix. That’s why the New York-based musician has been in international demand, a jewel in any ensemble that hires him. He’s also a leader in his own right, his versatility proved by some 200 recordings as a sideman and over a dozen recordings as a leader, many of those featuring vocalist Molly Ryan, whose deft way with a song is also in keeping with vintage jazz traditions. But let Dan tell that story: “I was performing with the Reynolds Brothers Rhythm Rascals, which was led by Ralf Reynolds and John Reynolds, who are the grandchildren of Zasu Pitts. We were at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, where Molly’s father was a volunteer sound engineer. And the Reynolds brothers had invited her to sing with the band. So I met her when she was sitting in with them. For me, it was like when a cartoon character’s eyes bulge out—she was a dream. And it was not only physical but also something about the way she sang. She didn’t do the jazz inflections that for me have been such a turn-off over the years. I me
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B.A. Nilsson is a freelance writer and actor who lives in rural New York. His interest in vintage jazz long predates his marriage to a Paul Whiteman relative, and greatly helped in winning her affections.

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