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Ray LeVier: Against All Odds

Ray LeVier

Drummer Ray LeVier has chops. His Web page includes video of a drum clinic near his home in New York’s Hudson Valley that places his virtuosity beyond question, as do his heavy beats behind singer-songwriter KJ Denhert. But on his postbop-oriented leader debut, Ray’s Way (Origin), LeVier epitomizes understatement; he takes no solos, save for a series of one-bar breaks on one track, and comps so subtly that even the bass (played by François Moutin or Ned Mann) frequently dominates him. “I wanted it to sound like a band, not a bunch of hired guns,” says LeVier. “I didn’t want it to sound like a drummer’s album, but like an album.”

Hardly standard operating procedure for a drummer-as-bandleader, but LeVier’s entire musical career has defied conventional wisdom. Shortly after discovering his instrument at age 12, he suffered extensive third-degree burns when his sleeping bag caught fire during a campout. The accident deprived him of most of the fingers on his left hand, causing his doctors to believe that he’d never play drums again. LeVier didn’t accept that answer: He asked his mother to bandage a drumstick to his hand and beat the skins even when it aggravated his injuries. “The skin was like tissue paper,” he recalls, “and my hands were bleeding. But I kept at it and just kept trying to figure out a way. So I was walking through a parking lot and I found what I think was a hockey glove-no fingers. And I said, ‘Well, why can’t I just stick my hand in this, and duct tape the stick to my hand?'”

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Originally Published

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.