Howard has been playing piano and harmonica with big bands since the early 1980’s, when he made regular appearances with Chicago’s Jazz Members Big Band, later to become The Chicago Jazz Orchestra. In the 1990’s he had a memorable night playing with The Duke Ellington Orchestra led by Mercer Ellington, who featured him on “Prelude to a Kiss”, originally written as a vehicle for Johnny Hodges.
He was also a featured harmonica soloist with arranger/composer Don Sebesky at Chicago’s Symphony Center, and has performed on harmonica and piano with many other big bands: The Colorado Big Band, University of Illinois Chicago Big Band, Caleb Chapman’s Crescent Super Band, The Chicago Jazz Orchestra (with Buddy DeFranco and Victor Goines), The US Air Force Jazz Band, Coastal Carolina College Big Band, University of Puget Sound Big Band, and others.
Apart from playing with big bands, Howard has also composed/arranged music for big bands.
His first big band chart was an arrangement of Bela Fleck’s “The Sinister Minister” commissioned by the New Trier High School Jazz Band in 1994. He also wrote a big band version of his composition “Chorinho” (arr. by Scott Routenberg), featuring Howard on piano and harmonica.
Howard and Scott then collaborated on a three- part Suite for Harmonica and Big Band, which Howard has performed several times. Each movement is named for and dedicated to Howard’s Jazz heroes- McCoy Tyner (One for McCoy), Bill Evans (Waltz for Bill), and Eddie Palmieri/Eddie Harris (The Two Eddies)
One of Howard's most recent compositions for big band/Jazz orchestra, was a collaborative effort with Indian percussionist/composer Kalyan Pathak and trumpeter/arranger/composer Orbert Davis, featured in the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s "Immigrant Stories" concert at Millenium Park in 2018.
Being flexible, a great sight reader, an accomplished jazz musician who is comfortable playing in any style, Howard is "an ideal guest artist". He is also an experienced clinician and coach for high school and college jazz bands.
Howard Levy's repertoire with jazz Big Band
Suite for Harmonica and Big Band - composed by Howard Levy, arr. by Scott Routenberg (2015)
1 One for McCoy (for McCoy Tyner)
2 Waltz for Bill (for Bill Evans)
2 The Two Eddies (Eddie Harris and Eddie Palmieri)
Performance time: 20 min.
Chorinho - composed by Howard Levy (1984), arr. by Scott Routenberg (2010)
Features Howard on piano and harmonica
Performance time: 7 min.
Mean to Me - Ahlert and Turk, arr. by Frank Mantooth
Prelude to a Kiss - Strayhorn/Ellington
Blood Count - Strayhorn/Ellington
And many more...