"Let's not waste any time," he said. "I'm starting a management company with Lou Levy. The address is across the street on 53rd. By the time you get there, I'll be speaking with Lou. He'll explain what we're doing, and then you can proceed from there." He shook my hand and showed me out.
“Thanks Mr. Mac…”
“Don’t call me that anymore and get the fuck outta here before I change my mind…”
The trip down that elevator felt like 10 lightyears. I was imploding from within. “I made it, I made it…!!!” I thought to myself.
I rushed over to see Lou Levy and arrived just as he was ending the call with Teo. Lou’s brother George, a classic old time Jewish New Yorker, wet-tipped cigar, suit and fancy bow tie and all, greeted me. “Lou is expecting you,” he said.
Today, I suppose only a few people may know the name Lou Levy. In fact, there was another Lou Levy, the jazz pianist I saw in Israel with Ella Fitzgerald years earlier, when I was a kid. I loved his playing. Little did I imagine that someday in the future, he would be playing for me on a CD that I produced for Randy Crawford. But that, again, is another story.
This was the other Lou Levy, the agent/publisher, and in his day, one of the most successful independent music publishers in America. Levy co-founded Leeds Music in 1935 with his friend, lyricist Sammy Cahn (with whom I wrote a song.) Levy was credited with the discoveries of such writing talents as Cahn himself, Bob Dylan and Henry Mancini. He also played a pivotal role in the careers of such artists as Petula Clark, Bobby Darin, Eddie Fisher, Connie Francis, Woody Herman, Steve Lawrence, Les Paul and the Andrew Sisters. He was also responsible for providing hit material for several singers, including Frank Sinatra with "All or Nothing at All," "Strangers in the Night," and "I'll Never Smile Again," Petula Clark with "Downtown" and "Call Me," The Everly Brothers with "Let It Be Me," Tom Jones with "It's Not Unusual," and many others. Additionally, he also published The Beatles.
First thing out of Lou’s mouth was, “You must be good if he sent you to me.”
Teo was at a crossroads in his own career and was seeking to pursue more independent ventures, leading him to leave Columbia. The two created a new company and I was one of their first clients.
Within a week I got a call from Teo. He asked me to come down to the office and pick up a couple of tunes he wanted me to arrange for the Andre Kostelanetz orchestra. It was a Monday. I went over to see him, and he gave me two tunes, one by Duke Ellington called "The Looking Glass" and the other by Charlie Chaplin, "Love Theme Song" from "The Gentleman Tramp."
"What's the instrumentation?" I inquired.
“It’s a 120-piece orchestra, combination symphonic and jazz big band.”
“When do you need it by?” I asked
“We record Thursday, so Wednesday, ‘round noon time I want the scores at the copyist’s.”
Have you ever seen a Tom and Jerry cartoon where Jerry shoves a piece of red-hot iron down Tom’s throat? Can you remember the expression on Tom’s face? That reaction was suppressed, or rather, was put on a “delay”. I just said, “Alright then, I’ll go to work.”
To fully understand the challenge I faced, I need to rewind a few years back to my time in Israel. Over there, I was frequently asked to arrange for large ensembles, but they were strictly for symphonic instrumentation and mostly three-minute songs, which would typically take me two to three weeks to prepare. This, on the other hand, was a combination symphonic and jazz orchestra, almost double the size of a regular orchestra, with two tunes instead of one, and I only had two days to complete them. OUCH!!!!
I went home and almost threw up. This is definitely going to be my own, personal Waterloo. This is the end, folks. There’s no way on earth I could make it by Wednesday morning. It was nice, it was short and it was deep, “goodbye New York… “
The first thing I did was get into bed and hide under the covers for about an hour. My entire life raced before me at a dazzling pace, with many pictures overlapping and distorting each other.
So this was America. This is how it works over here. This is why these guys reached the moon, while in Brazil they are still playing samba in the streets, drinking caipirinha and taking siestas on the Ipanema shore…
But a miracle did happen. Well, not really a miracle. My studies at Berklee paid off big time. At Berklee, the assignments came in large quantities and delivering them was essential to get a grade. I was unaware of the amount of work I was producing there, plus the increasing speed of my delivery. It became a normal part of my daily life.
I got up, organized my writing desk with pencils, sharpener, ruler, score paper and a large mug of coffee, and started to work. I barely took breaks, maybe just a couple of hours of sleep here and there. I wrote the charts feverishly. The job was challenging because the instructions were very general and brief. My reference was, listening to the Andre Kostelanetz orchestra's records. (There was no internet then, I had to go to the store and buy a few albums.) The instructions were simply, “Big, some jazz riffs, not too ‘out there’, short melodic solos, if any, get to work!”
I delivered the charts on Wednesday. On Thursday morning I came to the studio and there they were, all 120 of them. For me it was similar to going to temple on high holidays. The atmosphere was none that I had ever experienced before. The huge studio had its own distinct personality. This is where Glen Gould and many others recorded their music and created a tangible sensation of "holiness." And what blew me away that morning was the musicians themselves. When I saw Ron Carter, one of the greatest bass players ever, pick up his instrument I almost fell off my chair. And the way he played my notes, I had never ever heard music come to life that way. “C” never sounded like that. The way he slurred, the way he phrased and embellished my quarter notes was something I had never experienced before.
Here is my very first ever recording. The Andre Kostelanetz conducting his orchestra in New York City at CBS studios on E 30th street. The Looking Glass by Charlie Chaplin.
All of that occurred in my first month in New York city.
Later on, Teo introduced me to Vanguard records, where I produced a new band named “Cosmology”. He was building my career as arranger-producer. Between himself and Lou Levy, who, among others, introduced me to a fellow by the name of Robert Halmi, who later became one of Hollywood’s most successful TV producers, my career would have undoubtedly reached great heights in New York City.
While this was a tremendous opportunity, I was not yet fully prepared for it. I was young and inexperienced in the big world, especially in the US, and in the presence of one of the greatest jazz producers of the 20th century, I was not able to fully comprehend the significance or appreciate it. I came from Israel, where I was a famous musician, and being second to Teo took its toll after a while. I felt like I was a mere apprentice, but what was wrong with being humble and learning from the best, at that, learning what no college could ever teach? I just couldn’t handle the power dynamics with Teo and at the time. I started searching for other opportunities and break away from the “safety of the pond.” I thought to myself, I got one deal, I could probably get another.
I began finding excuses for not contacting Lou or Teo as often. As a result, I gradually lost touch with both of them and faded away from the scene. Looking back, I realize the foolishness of that decision was.
The truth is, I did secure another deal, and another, and another. I had the privilege to work with renowned artists such as Buddy Rich, Maynard Fergusson, Dave Grusin, Bob James, and many others. However, disconnecting from Teo was still a regrettable decision. The good news is that I learned a lot from that experience, in many different ways. Of course, there are always new challenges and new predicaments. The path I chose presented plenty.