Rob Levit: Artist in Residence
Local Rennaissance Man Releases Two Albums, Holds Art Exhibit
by Rob Goszkowski
There’s nothing that can stop Rob Levit. He’ll tell you so in no uncertain terms.
“I refuse to be boxed in creatively, in terms of talent, what I should be capable of or what I should be doing,” says Levit, 38. “It’s human nature to box things in and put labels on them, you know?”
Rob isn’t a cocky guy, just a confident one who genuinely believes in the familiar childhood adage you can do anything you put your mind to. Creativity flows freely from this Maryland Hall artist in residence, whose results are as impressive as they are numerous.
“I also teach at Maryland Hall and have my studio there where I paint and give private lessons; I do creativity programs and outreach programs. I go out to the community to Boys and Girls Clubs, to schools and do workshops for kids on art and music. I’ve got a pretty full schedule,” says Levit.
Now, this multi-faceted local has recorded two very different albums and released them simultaneously: Uncertain Path with The Rob Levit Trio, and Anatomy of Ecstasy, a solo album of electronic music. On top of that he is showing his original paintings in the exhibit Creativity Without Struggle, running through December 17 at Maryland Hall.
Folks around town are most familiar with Levit’s work as a jazz trio (featuring Rob on guitar, Amy Shook on bass and Frank Russo on drums) and there’s a reason for that. “The trio is what I enjoy — my main form of musical expression, and it’s a longstanding working unit,” explains Levit. “On Uncertain Path, I wanted to express as many ways as possible to use a guitar in a group environment while mixing in rock and jazz.”
Critics have complained of too many styles on the album, an opinion that contradicts Levit’s beliefs about music. “It’s unfortunate,” he says, “because I don’t think of music that way, as one particular style or another. I know it sounds kind of corny, but I just hear music overall as music.”
Levit may run into similar trouble with his other album, Anatomy of Ecsatsy, an electronic album he created on computer. It’s so experimental that some people just might not get it. But to Levit, it makes perfect sense. “I think there’s something very seductive about the way electronic music sounds,” he says. “You can create sounds that aren’t available on a musical instrument.”
Jazz purists pooh-pooh such musical experimentation, but Levit knows there’s an audience for it. “Young listeners are really open to technological innovations,” he says. “Just think about the whole DJ culture. DJs are considered musicians now — and I can have a little problem with that depending on the DJ — even though they’re not playing a traditional instrument.”
Anatomy of Ecstasy is filled with ambient sounds that suggest a range of moods. Some tracks could be the score to a horror movie, while others are upbeat and even danceable. “Music doesn’t have to be pretty or wonderful sounding all the time,” Levit explains. “I’m just trying to expose different human emotions. People have a dark side to them, and I’m not trying to hide that. I want to run the gamut, dark and light.”
So what does a spooky, joyful, contemplative album of electronic music have to do with the live-sounding jazz record he dropped at the same time?
To Rob Levit, everything. “My music is a sort of therapy and I want to find as many ways to express myself as possible,” he says. “I’m all for technology, and on the same token I’m also all for picking up an acoustic guitar and just playin’ a gig acoustically.”
This all-encompassing appreciation for expression drew Levit to painting around the same time he was working on Anatomy of Ecstasy, a project where, he says, “my main operation was to create a parallel of visual art with a texturing and layering of sounds.” Painting, meanwhile, enabled him to express his thoughts and imagination in a whole new fashion.
“I titled the exhibit Creativity Without Struggle because I think it’s kind of a myth that you need to suffer for your art,” says this Renaissance man. “Creating should be a really fun and joyous kind of thing.”
And joyous it is for Levit. “If anything, I wish I could turn it off for a couple nights and just go out drinking with a few friends,” he laughs. “I mean, I’m sitting at my computer right now, and I just got back from a gig.”
Hear Levit the musician at 49 West every Thursday from 8:30-10:30pm and Galway Bay for Sunday brunch. Hear Levit talk on creativity December 7 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. See Levit the painter thru Dec. 17, also at Maryland Hall. Sample and order his albums at www.roblevit.com.