Daphna Levy takes a musical journey into night

The dynamic vocalist showcases her debut album at the Shablul Jazz Club in Tel Aviv.

Daphna Levy (photo credit: NATHAN YAKOBOVITCH)
Daphna Levy
(photo credit: NATHAN YAKOBOVITCH)
While it may be totally non-PC and even impolite to talk about a woman being past her first flush of youth, in Daphna Levy’s case the wine metaphor certainly applies. At the age of 45 – although you wouldn’t know it to look at her – jazz singer Levy has finally put out her debut album, which goes by the suitably sultry title of Late Night Journey.
Levy is a revelation. There are umpteen female jazz vocalists out there and, for my money, many sound like Ella Fitzgerald wannabees. While one can understand why any budding singer would want to aspire to the lofty level of one of the greatest divas in jazz history, any artist, and particularly a jazz musician, must find his or her own voice if they are going to successfully forge their way through the minefield of creativity.
Levy’s voice is her own. There is a beguiling feel to her timbre and she manages to marry sassiness with an alluring gutsy texture and pristine clarity. When Levy sings you hear every single syllable, and get exactly what she is trying to convey with the lyrics.
The words to the opening number on the CD, “Jazzland,” and the closing title track, were written by Levy and, considering she never lived in the States for too long a stretch, her command and appreciation of the English language goes way beyond the rudiments.
There is also a rough-and-ready dimension to Levy’s vocal delivery, almost as if she is not quite a professional, as if she has not managed to fully polish her act. That is one her musical charms and, she explains, is not the result of lack of ability or training.
“I work terribly hard to sound that way,” she declares with a laugh. “It’s jazz music. While I worked on the CD – editing and mixing the whole thing I was constantly aware of trying to attain this balance of it sounding great and also being me, and yet not being perfect.”
That, surely, is also a reflection of where Levy is, not only as an artist, but first and foremost as a person. In day-to-day life we generally endeavor to look and sound our best, and to impress those around us with our demeanor, if not our appearance. It is a mark of a person’s self-confidence when he or she just puts themselves out as they are, as if to say: “This is me. Love me or leave me.” In Levy’s case, with Late Night Journey it is clearly a case of the former.
There is much to love about the album, and about the way the singer goes about her business which, no doubt, will be evident at her February 4 gig at Shablul Jazz Club at the Port of Tel Aviv. Levy will have the sideman services of octogenarian saxophonist Merton Cahm, pianist Hod Moshonov, double bass player Adam Ben-Ezra and drummer Leon Haviv for the occasion, with stellar vocalist Yasmin Levy putting in a guest appearance.
The singer has graced various prestigious stages over the years, including the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, the Wichita Jazz Festival in Kansas, the Oerol Fetsival in Holland and the Israel Festival.
Levy certainly put together a first-class band for the album, which was recorded in New York and Tel Aviv, including Italian pianist Tony Pancella and internationally acclaimed reedman Lew Tabackin on tenor saxophone, with Cahm providing more tenor saxophone coloring, Assaf Hakimi on acoustic bass and Gasper Bertoncelj from Slovenia on drums.
The singer was clearly intent on achieving and preserving a genuine end product.
“A lot of times when I’d spot a mistake or a rougher sound I would keep it, because I really wanted to maintain that authentic live vibe. I wanted to sound live because jazz is about the moment, and once you polish everything it is no longer alive, it becomes a production. It is really important to me to hold on to the spirit of jazz.”
LEVY FIRST caught the jazz bug thanks to her older siblings Ofer and Vered. “My parents would listen to classical music, which is also a great influence on me, probably just as much as jazz. I listen to a lot of chamber music,” she notes. That comes through on the album. “I’d just listen to my brother and sister’s jazz records, by [trumpeter] Miles Davis and sax players, and of course all the duets of Ella [Fitzgerald] and Louis [Armstrong], their recording of [George Gershwin’s opera] Porgy and Bess.”
There was also contemporary commercial stuff in Levy’s musical education. “I like David Bowie a lot. He was a great influence,” she says. Bowie had more of an impact on Levy that just his singular sonic output. “I studied philosophy as well, at Tel Aviv University, and, to me, Bowie is rock and roll’s poet and philosopher. To this day he is a major influence on me, in terms of freedom to be and create.
“Bowie is always concerned with existential issues, and he was like that when he was 20 years old. His earliest albums are amazing and so deep that is really hard to comprehend how he could be like that at such a young age.”
Another feature that comes through loud and clear on Late Night Journey is that she has navigated her own path to where she is now as a musician. Unlike most of our jazz artists Levy did not relocate Stateside to study at one of the better known academic institutions there, such as Berklee College of Music in Boston, or the New School in New York.
Practically the only formal musical instruction in Levy’s CV is a few stints she took with noted California-based vocal coach Seth Riggs. Levy is in illustrious company as a Riggs alumnus. “Seth is like a voice guru,” says the singer. “He taught Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, everybody really.” That roster also includes Ray Charles, Madonna and Dusty Springfield. If Levy was going to take formal training it was obviously going to be with the best.
Other than that, Levy has largely followed her own muse, and she has set out her stall in no uncertain terms with Late Night Journey.
For tickets and more information about Daphna Levy’s Shablul concert: (03) 546-1891 and www.shabluljazz.com