Perhaps Tony has never met a project that didn't intrigue, perhaps the man never learned to say, "no," but somehow Tony has been a contributor to over 500 albums. In ten years that's about an average of an album per week. Over forty years, an album per month. Wow! Plus, touring--did I mention touring! Tony has toured with Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Paul Simon, Gary Burton, Herbie Mann, Judy Collins, Carly Simon, Peter Frampton, Tim Finn, Richie Sambora, Yes, Genesis, David Torn, L'Image, Claudio Baglioni, HoBoLeMa, not to mention his own bands (listed below) and other guest or imoromptu appearnaces. He has performed as a studio musician for the likes of Andy Pratt, Cher, Alice Cooper, John Lennon, Robert Fripp, Paul Simon, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Nicks, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Buddy Rich, The Roches, Todd Rundgren, Seal, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, Warren Zevon, Kevin Parent, Laurie Anderson, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Jean-Pierre Ferland, and David Bowie. Tony has been a leader and/or contributor/collaborator for Stick Men, Levin Torn White, Bruford-Levin Upper Extremities, Gorn Levin Marotta, Liquid Tension Experiment, Bozzio Levin Stevens, California Guitar Trio, ProjeKct One and ProjeKct Four, King Crimson, L'Image, and Peter Gabriel as well as his own solo albums.
Work ethic (and demand from others) aside, the real reason I've chosen to spotlight Tony Levin so high up on my list is because of his skills, his adventurous spirit, his flexibility, his stylistic adaptability and malleability, his technological prowess and creativity, and, most of all, for his lack of ego. Essentially quite an easy-going, happy-go-lucky guy, Tony has been known to personally corresponded directly to his fans since the beginning and has kept what some call the longest running Internet journal/diary--in photos and words--in history! (Tony Levin's Road Diary dates back to 1996--before the terms "weblog" and "blog" even existed--with over 400 archived tour pages and over 6,800 photos.)
Then there is Tony Levin the bass player, the rhythmist, the innovator, the master. Double bass, electric bass, finger extensions ("funk fingers"), background vocals, and stage choreography are just part of Tony's shtick. His real prowess is in the commitment to and experimentation with, exploration and mastery of the uses of the 10-stringed Chapman Stick Touchboard®. This instrument allows the fingers of both hands to be simultaneously creating melodies. And, since the treble and lower end sides of the fretboard are channeled separately into your soundboard, you can treat each side with different effects. (I know: Inspired by Tony and my own experience playing a friend's original model ironwood Chapman Stick, I purchased and worked with a version II, injection-molded polycarbonate model Chapman Stick in the late 80s and early 90s.) What amazed me when watching Tony while attending my first King Crimson concert in 1984 was how busy both of Tony's hands were. On several songs that the band performed, Tony was doing the work of two instruments--often polyrhythmically--which means one hand's fingers were working melodic patterns in a different time signature from the other hand's fingers! I had the sudden realization of just how much of the King Crimson sound was due to Tony. I was astounded, to say the least. One of the most talented and innovative musical band collectives on the planet was held together by the virtuosic talents of their bass player--one Tony Levin!
Anyway, the Tony Levin career has been one of extreme interest and enjoyment for me to follow. Starting with my seeing him live in concert with Peter Gabriel's band in 1978 to the present, Tony is always wowing me, always pushing the boundaries of sound and bass roles. He's been rock, he's been jazz. He's been prog, he's been pop. He's been metal, he's been acoustic. He's actually all of these at one and the same time. He is always the consummate professional, the light-hearted, fun-loving, easy-going presence in the room (or on the stage) and yet you can tell: He LOVES music!
I will end this exposé by sharing a story that I read in Bill Bruford's autobiography that I think is quite worthwhile for everyone to hear.
Bill and Tony had been hired by hotshot guitarist Al DiMeola to fly into Aspen, Colorado to record the bass and drum tracks for a song for his upcoming album (which was to be titled, Scenario.) They flew in together, arrived at the appointed studio at the appointed time and proceeded to wait. Apparently, their wait turned into hours. When M. DiMeola did finally deign to show up, Tony and Bill--nonplussed as the professionals that they were--listened to the verbal directions from Al with regards to what he wanted from this particular song--a complicated and intricately constructed song (that became titled "Calliope" on the album). Al asked if they needed to practice--to go through it with him--but Tony said no, that he thought he had it. And so, they pushed "record" and went through the song, start to finish, in one take(!!)--nailed it--after which he and Bill proceeded to pack up and, rather unceremoniously, leave.
Bill recalls this event not only to illustrate Tony's professional ethic, but also to plug the amazing ability Tony had on his instrument--even when dealing with new and complex music from one of the virtuosos of our time!
Here's a playlist from an Episode of Prog Is Alive! that I did for WDRT-Viroqua a few weeks ago in honor of Tony's career:
Prog is Alive (Music) with Drew 06/26/2016 10:00PM to 12:00AM
() Tony Levin Pete Levin “Matte Kudasai (excerpt)” from Levin Brothers (2014) on Lazy Bones Recordings (USA).( ) Stick Men “Scarlet Wheel” from soup (Rock, 2010) onStick Men Records (USA)