By Marilyn Lester . . .

During the COVID-19 lockdown, with its punishing pandemic restrictions, remarkably many in the music business still found ways to cope, especially in being able to record. Bob Levy, a multi award winning ASCAP songwriter, was one of those not to be sidelined. The result of his determination to keep creating is an eclectic 17-track CD of his work, the aptly titled, While I’m Still Here (SRM Records), his 11th album. The whole is a joyful collection of tunes—not only a meaningful representation of Levy’s talents, but great listening pleasure, made all the more exciting by the number of A-list musicians and vocalists participating.

About the genesis of While I’m Still Here, Levy reports, “After Alex Rybeck and I won the 2019 and 2020 MAC Award for Best Song, Lennie Watts asked if we’d be interested in writing a song that expressed what everyone in the business was feeling… one that they could use for the virtual MAC Award ceremony.” Levy collaborated with Rybeck accordingly and their “Here’s to the Heroes” (not on this CD) emerged as the tune selected, with all of the MAC winners that year performing on it. For Levy, it was an aha moment that stirred his creative juices, He began writing song after song, connecting with colleagues who were also home during the imposed isolation. And so, many of the songs were recorded remotely by singers in one studio and musicians in another. So focused was Levy he reveals, “I was determined to have as many songs as possible recorded and I was not going to let a pandemic stop me!” And it certainly did not, much to the delight of the songwriter himself, and those of us who benefit from his perseverance and talent.

The title track came early in Levy’s writing, summing up how he felt about the future. To record it, he reached out to singer-actress Jennifer Roberts, who appears on several of the album’s tracks. Roberts has a classic Broadway-style soprano that’s light and clear. On “While I’m Still Here,” with Daryl Kojak on piano and Howie Gordon on drums, the sweetness in Robert’s vocal underscores why she’s a popular artist with an enviable track record of performance. Other titles vocalized by her are “Someone Falls in Love With You,” “I Won’t Sing a Song About Love” and “Christmas Eve Is Here Again,” all expressed with her flair for incisive interpretation.

Although Levy has the ability to write across genres—music and lyrics both— While I’m Still Here succeeds best with jazz. One of the highlights of the album is Nicolas King’s rendition of “Live, Love & Laugh” (written with Ronny Whyte), which also features Kojak and Gordon. King is a performer of great energy and enthusiasm, which translates perfectly on this track. His confident, bright vocals are enhanced by his scatting, making for a superior listening experience. Also highlighting the jazz tracks of While I’m Still Here is the exciting young trumpeter Benny Benack III, who is also a fine vocalist. “Twenty-Two” (written with Drew Paralic) features plenty of swing with Doug Hammer on piano and Steve Chaggaris on drums. With “Tell Her Now” (written with Ronny Whyte) and with Hammer’s piano, Benack supplies more swing and toe-tapping delight.

One of the most exciting female jazz vocalists around is the versatile singer-songwriter Nicole Zuraitis, who graces three tracks: “Don’t Follow Me” and “When We Sing Again” (both written with Tracy Stark, who also plays piano accompaniment), and “I Fell in Love” (written with Alex Rybeck and featuring Rybeck on piano, Benack on trumpet and percussion by Rex Benincasa). In each of these, Zuraitis, with her strong, crystalline vocal tone delivers that feeling of jazz that’s unmistakable, with a sense of rhythm and phrasing that elevates her material. A superb R&B tune, “The Best Part of Me” is delivered with perfection by Dane Vannatter, sensitively vocalizing to Daniel May’s piano accompaniment.

Also contributing prime talent to While I’m Still Here are vocalists Laurie Krauz, Jinny Sagorin and Marcus Simeone, who sings on several cuts. Musicians who also contributed to the success of the recordings are guitarist Sean Harkness, bassist Steve Doyle, trumpeter Bud Burridge and cello player Clay Ruede.

In what can be considered an epic body of work created and realized in heroic proportion, Levy has reason to be very proud. While I’m Still Here adds another well-deserved feather to a cap of ‘em already documenting a full and successful career. And while Levy can certainly bask in glory, remember art is made for others—so hooray for us who get to savor the tasty and delightful fruits of Bob Levy’s While I’m Still Here

Available on most digital platforms.