On Being Sincere
Sweeping generalizations are dangerous in any situation, but it does seem to hold true that, generally, jazzmen (and jazzwomen) are good people, more so than rock musicians, or especially actors. There's a different kind of ego investment in jazz -- actually, an egolessness that leads to success in this art form but would be a sure road to failure in the other two.
Guitarist Adam Levy is good people. After years of playing sideman to musicians from Tracy Chapman to John Zorn, Jim Campilongo to Jenny Scheinman, the recently replanted San Franciscan has also recently redirected himself toward more personal projects. "In the last five years, I've been in about a million bands, give or take three or four. I feel like now I need to be really focused and do the "Adam Levy thing,' whatever that means," he says. Lately what that means is about two to four gigs a week with the two bands closest to his heart, the Adam Levy Trio and the Cordials.
The Trio, with Eric Garland on drums and Nick Cudahy on bass, plays Levy's own compositions, which he describes as "late '50s cool jazz" with a stroke of "Americana twang." "I think of my guitar in that band as being the singer, moving real slow and singing almost like a cross between Aretha Franklin on a slow ballad and a throaty, whisky-toned alto or contralto."
The Cordials, not eponymous but just as beloved, came to be as a result of Levy's experiences while living in New York. "I was really tired of bands in New York doing covers of pop tunes and irony was the whole thing, like "How can we take a Prince tune and' -- you know, playing it for laughs." For the Cordials, covering songs by their favorite R&B and pop artists is homage, and an opportunity to stretch known structures into new configurations. "Our tongue is not in our cheek. We really wanted to do those songs in earnest -- we jazz 'em up a little bit or put a spin on them because we love them."
The group's sets range from the Beatles to Ray Charles, Booker T. & the MGs, Nina Simone, and Ike & Tina. Joining Levy in this labor of love are bassist/ organist Rob Burger and drummer Jim Kassis. Kassis and Levy had played together off and on in the jazz scene for 10 years. Levy and Burger met by accident, two years ago, when both were asked to play a last-minute gig at a local cafe. "Nobody paid any attention to us, but he and I totally connected. We'd say, "Hey, do you know this tune?' "Yeah.' And we played it. Rob has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and he has perfect pitch, so any song, he can play it."
Levy adds, "I have a perfect little band I hear in my head, and these guys play like that."