Max was a violinist/bandleader in Kiev starting in the 1880’s. His group would perform Klezmer as well as other music. Max married for the first time, with the hopes of having a family. However, his wife was unable to conceive and they ultimately divorced. Soon after the divorce, he met Rachel, a woman 18 years younger. They married and started to have children. Max continued his music as his family grew. He traveled to America a few times by himself to establish connections for his music career. He brought his wife and four children to the U.S. in the early 1900’s. They first settled in Philadelphia before moving to New York. By the time he and Rachel had six children, Max began to suffer from asthma and became unable to work. The three oldest boys left school to go to work in order to support the family. The boys pooled their money and bought a house in Brooklyn in the early 1920’s. Max lived until the age of 73, passing away in 1937.
Jack was the oldest of Max’s six children. He left school after the sixth grade and apprenticed at a barber shop. The barber also taught him how to play violin! Though he was a multi-instrumentalist, Jack was best known as a trombone player. He went on to work in the famous Yiddish Theaters on 2nd Avenue in New York. Jack also worked with a very well known group in the 1920’s called the Boibriker Kapelye. He had the good fortune of working as a trombonist and arranger with the legendary bandleader Abe Schwartz. Jack met the legendary clarinetist Dave Tarras in the 20’s. They remained friends and often work together. Later in life, Jack arranged an entire album featuring his son (my father) Marty as well as Jack himself on trombone. The record was called "Wedding Dances".
Frank was an extremely talented musician. His trumpet styling kept him busy on the Klezmer scene. He would travel often with different groups to South Florida and to Cuba as well. Frank also played accordion and was featured with many "American" bands, and would bill himself as Frankie Louis instead.
"Philly" was the least serious musician of the family.
Although he was a trumpet player, his claim to fame was that after playing at weddings, he would drive his cab to the front of the catering hall and pick up fares from the affair! Ironically, after leaving the music business, Phil went on to become an ambulance driver in Brooklyn.
Lou was the youngest of the four brothers. His talent as a trumpet player kept him very busy on the music scene. He recorded many songs with the Barry Sisters as well as the great clarinetist Dave Tarras. Lou was the trumpeter on the "Freilach in Hi-Fi" series led by accordionist Murray Lehrer. Famed bandleader Nat Brooks would often say, "Lou Levinn plays the trumpet like a violin". His great tone and technique led to invitations into many jazz bands. Most notably was Roy Eldridge who wanted Lou to go on the road with his group. Lou declined and continued to work on the New York "Jewish" scene. He continued to be very busy until his untimely death at the young age of 56.
Marty was born in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. At age four his mother took him to Poland to visit his grandparents for what was to be just three weeks. It became obvious that his parents had marital issues as these three weeks turned into over four years. He finally left Poland in May of 1939 and returned back to the U.S with his mother. As a teenager Marty started his career in music often working with his father and his uncles throughout Brooklyn and the rest of the city as well as the Catskills. He started an orchestra and began "booking" his own jobs at age seventeen. At that time the Brownsville section of Brooklyn offered plentiful jobs for musicians. During the summer Marty would work at the hotels in the Catskill Mountains. It was during these years that Marty met many people in the business who became lifelong friends – Sammy Kutcher and his brothers, Howie Leess (distant cousin), Jerry Goldstein, Nat Brooks among many others.
Levitt married vocalist Harriet Kane in 1957. Together they formed a popular group that specialized in International as well as Yiddish and Klezmer music. Their first recording was called "Party Memories" on the old Tikva Label. Marty recorded often and with Harriet as well as being featured just instrumentally. Their collaboration called "Bar Mitzvah Favorites" (rec. 1965) seems to have resurrected a following on the internet, which exemplifies the timelessness of their international music. Marty also recorded Fiesta, Fran labels and with his own companies Tivell and MLO. The Levitt’s were always very busy providing the music and entertainment for many Jewish organizations during the 1960’s and 70’s. They also performed at countless private parties during that time. Marty had the opportunity of appearing in Paramount Picture’s "The Lords Of Flatbush" in 1974. He was part of the Ralph Rogers Trio which included Ralph Kahn on bass as well as Hal Bell on accordion. The film featured a young Sylvester Stallone and a pre-Fonzie Henry Winkler.
By the 1970’s many of the earlier Levitt generation were passing away. Marty lost his father and two of his uncles between 1968 and 1974. He ultimately held on to all their music and memorabilia from the years past. Marty received many a phone call from "Klezmer" widows asking the same question, " You want to look through the music"? Levitt was happy to preserve the music as a reminder of days gone by. The " library" survived a move to Florida and then back to Brooklyn.
While in Florida, Levitt enjoyed success as a radio host. The show was called "Freilach Time" and it ran for a few years in South Florida. Marty would play Jewish records and interview guests. Soon after getting involved in radio, Marty became more interested in arranging and created many charts for his orchestra. He enjoyed writing arrangements of old Klezmer tunes for four wind instruments, piano, bass, and drums. By this time his son was of age to begin learning the family music trade. Marty taught his son David the role of every instrument in a Klezmer group. This made it easy to rehearse at home and try out different ideas.
Shortly after moving back to New York in 1983, Harriet became ill and passed away at the young age of 48. Marty never had to urge to work as regularly as before without his wife and partner by his side. He did continue to arrange and record many more Klezmer tracks. His right hand began to have circulatory issues when he reached his mid-sixties. Being of a generation that shunned medicine, Marty never got the necessary procedure for his hand and slowly stopped playing the clarinet. He dappled with the trumpet late in his life and still wrote music until his passing in March of 2008.
Harriet was a Bronx girl, P.S.4 as well as Taft High School. Her ambitions were to become a professional singer. Although never taking a voice lesson, Harriet was a natural who got her start in the Catskills. She would stay in the Catskills every summer with friends and get singing jobs at different hotels. She met bandleader Marty Levitt in 1956 and the two were married the following year. Marty succeeded in getting Harriet bookings in Manhattan nightclubs in addition to her as appearing exclusively with his orchestra. It was during this time that Harriet learned to sing in many languages. She had a gift for pronunciation and that carried over to every language that she learned to sing in. This included Yiddish, Polish, Russian, Hebrew, French, Spanish and Italian just to name a few. Her talents were not limited to just singing. She incorporated comedy into her routines and had special material written for her that showcased all of her talents. One of her main writers was the multi-talented Nat Brooks. Nat penned the lyrics for Harriet’s version of Fiddler on the Roof’s "If I Were a Rich Man". It was called "If I HAD a Rich Man". This was always a big hit with audiences and a mainstay of Harriet’s act for many years.
Harriet became a mother in she early 1960’s. She had three children and was a devoted mother. She was able to also continue her recording career on albums such as "Bar Mitzvah Favorites" as well as "Jewish Wedding" Both of these were with her husband Marty’s orchestra. Harriet became popular as an entertainer in South Florida in the late 1970’s. Many of her former audience members from the 1960’s had moved south and were happy to have her back in their lives. The last recordings Harriet did were part of the "King of the Klezmer" series that her husband Marty arranged and produced. She continued to perform until late into 1984. At that time Harriet started to experience extreme discomfort in her back and legs. After several tests she was diagnosed with cancer and perished less than a year later. Her music will live on forever.
Dave Levitt learned the music business from his parents. They got him started at age eight in Hollywood, Florida. He went on to appear with his folks at every one of their performances. First it was drums and clarinet. Later it became alto sax before Dave finally settled with the trombone at age fourteen. As a teenager Dave attended the famous Laguardia H.S. of Music and Art in New York. While a student there, he was a cast member in the Elizabeth Swados production "Swing" which had a run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. After completing High School, Dave attended Manhattan School Of Music on a scholarship. As student at MSM, Levitt had the good fortune of appearing with many notable jazz musicians. They included Red Rodney, Al Grey, Clark Terry as well as many others. It was about this time that Dave started to arrange and record Klezmer music with his father. These recordings also included their distant cousin Howie Leess on alto saxophone. After finishing his education, Dave took his artistry on the road which included the U.S. as well as Europe. Two of his European tours were with the Epstein Brothers Klezmer Band. Dave was the youngest member of the group as the brothers were well into their 70’s. The eldest brother Max Epstein was in his early 80’s. It was about this time that Dave started his own company called Progressive Music. The business operated as a rehearsal/recording studio for thirteen years. The business has since shifted gears and Dave is now involved in publishing as well as operating as a record label. The initial release of the label is called "Marty Levitt’s Greatest Hits". It’s a series of recordings with two generations in the ensemble. (Marty and Dave Levitt). It’s been available digitally and is due to be available in stores in December of 2009. There are many other master tapes in the library worthy of being re-issued. One of them features the two generations as well of Jack and Marty Levitt. Others recordings feature Harriet Kane and date back over 40 years. All releases are going to be on Progressive Music and will be distributed by I.M.G./Universal.