© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
One of the great things about Frank Hayde and Charlie Watts new biography of Stan Levey: Jazz Heavyweight from Santa Monica Press is the way the chronology of the drummer’s life is interwoven with his spoken comments about the key musicians, events and recordings in his life and in his career.
Stan was not a sugar-coated type of guy. He told it straight. His view of things was his view of things. His opinion was his opinion. His language was direct, even gruff at times. And yet, Stan never went out of his way to hurt anyone. If he’s disappointed about someone of something, he says so, but without laying it on. There’s no embellishment. And if you know anything about Stan’s early “career” outside of music and if you’ll pardon the pun, Stan didn’t pull any punches.
That’s the way Stan played drums: “Here, this is me.” “Yeah, I play in a style similar to Max Roach. Who hasn’t been influenced by Max? So what? That’s how I play. But I play stuff that Max and other drummers don’t play.”
Above all, Stan played himself, which is just about the highest form of artistic expression that anyone can achieve.
Of the many recordings on which Stan appears, trombonist Frank Rosolino’s Free For All is among my favorites. Here’s what author Frank Hayde, Stan and the LP’s producer Dave Axelrod have to say about it in Stan Levey: Jazz Heavyweight.
FRANK ROSOLINO, FREE FOR ALL (Specialty Records, 1958)
Trombone: Frank Rosolino Tenor saxophone: Harold Land Piano: Victor Feldman Bass: Leroy Vinnegar Drums: Stan Levey
One of the first hard bop albums recorded on the West Coast, Free For All was a provocative, well-rounded session with ingenious arrangements, inspired improvisations, and tight glue. Ideas abound, and it swings from start to finish. But for some reason, Specialty Records decided not to release it.
"I feel it's the best album I have ever recorded," a frustrated Rosolino wrote to the company. "Everyone who was on the date feels the same. I've played the dub for numerous musicians and they all think it's just great."
Stan concurred. Earlier in the year, he told Downbeat magazine, "Harold Land I just love . . . I’m waiting for Harold to really become well-known throughout the country as one of the best tenor players to blow a horn. And I don't think that will be too long now."
Buried with the album was an original tune by Stan, a bebop number titled "Chrisdee" (a combination of his son Chris's name with little David's nickname, "Dee-dee") into which Stan wrote a rare solo for Leroy Vinnegar, the rhythmically reliable bassist who perfected the "walking" style and contributed his impeccable playing to dozens of classic West Coast sessions. Hailing from the jazz sleeper town of Indianapolis, Vinnegar also appeared on seminal albums like Van Morrison's Saint Dominies Preview and Eddie Harris and Les McCann's Swiss Movement, widely recognized for the blockbuster number "Compared to What."
Free For All should have been one of Rosolino's finest albums. His producer, David Axelrod, remarked, "It was a great disappointment to us both that the record, for reasons we never understood, wasn't released."
The album would eventually be released [to critical acclaim], but not until many years after the unspeakable tragedy that led to Rosolino's horrific death. …
At the time of its release, Stan told his old friend Leonard Feather that Frank had “put into his music much more than he ever achieved out it.”
The following video tribute to Frank features Stan’s Chrisdee track from Free for All.