The Music of Lester Levy

6 & 12 Steel String Guitar


Guitarist Lester Levy

“I’ll give you one million dollars for your right hand” – Dave Van Ronk, on Lester’s natural ability.

dsc_0153Born and raised in Manhattan, Lester first picked up the guitar at age 9. He studied folk and classical guitar at the Third Street Music School Establishment. While a student there Lester performed at New York’s Town Hall.

In high school Lester’s friends on the Upper West Side turned him on to the music of southern bluesmen like Blind Blake and Blind Lemon Jefferson. In the village, he would go to hear Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Richie Havens. He would also go see Bucky Pizzarelli and Joe Pass on 52nd Street and see other jazz players like Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner at the Vanguard and the Blue Note. Also in high school, the sister of a good friend was dating Phil Schapp, a DJ at Columbia’s radio station. He was, and is, a Lester Young freak. He turned Lester on to the Pres and the likes of Charlie Parker.

After high school Lester spent a year as a music major in Buffalo, NY. It was in Buffalo that Lester learned to play the music of Jorma Kaukonen and Hot Tuna and players like Mississippi John Hurt and the Reverend Gary Davis. This music in particular captivated Lester’s musical core and has remained at the center of his playing since that time. Lester also played the music of Leo Kottke and John Fahey.

Lester returned to NYC where he studied with Woody Mann, a student of Reverend Gary Davis. He also took a lesson from Dave Van Ronk but Van Ronk told him that he had nothing to teach him and offered him $1,000,000 for his right hand — true story. (Several years later, Lester opened a show for Van Ronk in Southern California.)

From there Lester set out for California where he attended at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Lester gravitated towards the guitar repertoire from the southern hemisphere – particularly the music of Leo Brouwer, a Cuban guitarist and composer. Lester is often quoted as saying that Brouwer’s music is a perfect combination of classical and rock n’ roll – all laid out elegantly under a guitarist’s left hand. At the Conservatory, Lester studied with George Sakellariou and Michael Lorimer, protégés of Andre Segovia.

In more recent times, Lester has been spending time with Jorma Kaukonen and David Bromberg at Jorma’s Fur Peace Ranch.