State of the Arts

S39 E7 | CLIP

Jazz on the Back Deck: Dan Levinson and his Band

Jazz clarinetist Dan Levinson and his band perform on the back deck at the Morris Museum for their longtime fans. Levinson is an expert in early jazz and plays often in New York. He's also a longtime member of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the group that plays for period televison series such as Boardwalk Empire, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and movies including The Aviator.

AIRED: July 24, 2021 | 0:06:28

[ Jazz music playing ]

Messenger: He's a really early jazz specialist.

He's sort of the reincarnation of Benny Goodman.

He is so beloved by our audiences,

he could run for mayor of Morristown.

Levinson: I've been a Manhattan resident for about 38 years,

but I've been coming here since 2001, I think.

And I played here in October, so coming up on 20 years,

I've been performing here, right there in the Bickford Theatre.

And we came outside and did our first concert

for Jazz on the Back Deck in July.

[ Singing ] Gray skies are gonna clear up

Put on a happy face

Brush off the clouds and cheer up

Put on a happy face

Take off that gloomy mask of tragedy

It's not your style

You'll look so good

Narrator: During the pandemic, the Morris Museum

moved their music performances out to the back parking deck

so everyone could be socially distanced.

Picnics, sunsets, and an amazing view

made the concerts an enormous success.

Messenger: When you sit down in what normally is

a dingy, 53-year-old parking lot,

and the sun starts to set on the hills,

and the live music starts to play,

suddenly, it's something that's way more special.

Levinson: Oh, this is my favorite audience in the world.

It really is. And I feel I know most,

if not all of these people here.

They've been -- They've been loyal

and devoted fans and friends for many years,

and many of them are very good friends.

So these are my people.

I feel more at home with these people

than I do in my own apartment.

Langton: Dan is one of my heroes,

one of my oldest friends.

We discovered many things in common,

certain -- certain passions,

not just old jazz, but old movies.

Dan becomes an expert in everything he pursues.

So you have to be very careful when you tell him something,

'cause he's usually going to correct you,

say, "Actually, actually, I think you'll find --"

Narrator: But his true expertise is in early jazz,

from its beginnings at the start of the 20th century

through the 1930s.

Levinson: The Great American Songbook composers

like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin

and Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael,

they were all part of the Tin Pan Alley scene

in the early 20th century

and created this massive canon of music

that is still -- some of it's still very popular today.

And other songs are not as popular but deserve to be.

[ Jazz music playing ]

Man: Yeah.

Levinson: Before I was ever a musician,

I was a fan of this music.

It's not such an esoteric art form

as other styles of music.

You know, jazz, it's really a people's music.

This early jazz, you don't have to know anything about music,

but it has a beat, and it has has great rhythm

and melodies and harmonies,

so many components -- the different instruments

improvising simultaneously in the front line.

I felt as though it always was a part of my life.

Ryan: [ Singing ] Clouds have all departed, get lighthearted

Spring has started to break through

Levinson: Molly Ryan, who's been with me on a lot of shows here,

I also happen to be married to her.

That's a whole other dynamic, a husband and wife team.

Ryan: [ Singing ] Here's a thing to do now

Take your last red penny

Borrow some if you haven't any

Get yourself

There's a new one that I learned only in --

during the pandemic,

and it's called "Get Yourself a New Broom."

And as soon as I heard it, I thought,

"Oh, my gosh. I want to sing this."

[ Singing ] Get yourself a new broom

And sweep the blues away

Unless I miss my guess

Happiness doesn't hide around corners

It's not just about, like, smiling and being happy.

It's, "Get rid of those negative feelings,

get rid of that sadness,

and just, like, get yourself a new broom

and sweep all the other stuff away."

[ Singing ] Get yourself a new broom

And sweep the blues away

[ Jazz music playing ]

[ Applause ]

Narrator: In addition to having his own band,

Dan is a fixture on the New York jazz scene.

And he's played with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks

for more than 20 years.

Levinson: The Nighthawks did all the music

for "Boardwalk Empire," all five seasons,

and I'm on that with Vince.

I mean, he's the real genius behind that,

because he put all the music together

and worked on the arrangements.

And I just sat there and played the arrangements.

But it was an honor to be part of that

and to work with so many great singers

who joined us in the studio for that, "Boardwalk Empire,"

and also on "The Aviator" with the Nighthawks

and "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"

and a bunch of other soundtracks and television shows

that we worked on over the years.

[ Jazz music plays ]

Man: Alright. [ Cheers and applause ]

Ryan: [ Singing ] Happiness comes double

After a little pain

Levinson: I thought the world and the folks here in Morristown

needed some uplifting music

after what we've been through over the past year or so.

I put together a program of songs

about happiness and sunshine

and sweeping the clouds away

and -- and put on a happy face,

and if you want the rainbow, you must have the rain.

Ryan: [ Singing ] If you want the rainbow

You must have the rain

[ Jazz music playing ]