Remembering Milcho Leviev

December 19, 1937 – October 12, 2019


A tribute to the masterful pianist

Pianist Milcho Leviev passed away on October 12, 2019 at the age of 81.

Born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria on December 19, 1937, Leviev was a virtuosic pianist who graduated from the Bulgarian State Academy of Music in 1960.

Conductor of the Bulgarian National Radio Big Band (1962-66) and the Soia and Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra (1963-68), he composed innovative music that mixed together folk music and jazz with classical.

As a jazz pianist, he was the leader of Jazz Focus ’65 for five years before defecting to the United States in 1970.

Leviev became well known in the United States for his work with the Don Ellis Orchestra (1970-75), displaying his ease at performing in Ellis’ unusual time signatures and composing the complex “Bulgarian Bulge.”

Leviev also worked with Billy Cobham (1971-77), was music director for Lainie Kazan, performed regularly with John Klemmer and Roy Haynes, and was a member of the Art Pepper Quartet during 1980-82, going on European tours with Pepper.

In addition, Leviev was an original member of the jazz/classical group Free Flight and performed with Dave Holland but primarily worked as a leader of his own small groups and as an educator during his final 30 years; he led at least 16 albums in his career.

In 1990, while attending a classical concert in Bulgaria that celebrated the end of the communist regime, Leviev was invited onstage, performing an emotional version o “Imagine” and, after the audience insisted he play more, his “Bulgarian Bulge.”

-Scott Yanow

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