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Stan Levey, at 79; drummer at vanguard of bebop jazz

LOS ANGELES -- Stan Levey, an influential drummer who played with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker as they developed the bebop movement in jazz, died Tuesday at a hospital in Van Nuys. He was 79.

Mr. Levey had undergone surgery in February for cancer of the jaw, said his wife, Angela.

A self-taught drummer, Mr. Levey was 16 when he first played with Gillespie in a hometown Philadelphia club in 1942. Mr. Levey moved to New York, where, on Gillespie's recommendation, he joined bassist Oscar Pettiford's group.

After working with Parker's band, Mr. Levey became part of what the Los Angeles Times' late jazz critic Leonard Feather called ''the first genuine all-bebop group to play on 52nd Street, the famed block in midtown Manhattan where clubs lined both sides of the street." The group included Gillespie, Parker, pianist Al Haig, and bassist Curly Russell.

Mr. Levey also had big-band stints with, among others, Woody Herman and Benny Goodman. He rose to national jazz fame during his two years with the Stan Kenton orchestra.

After leaving Kenton in 1954, Mr. Levey settled in Los Angeles, where he became a major influence in what was called ''West Coast jazz" or the ''cool school" of modern jazz.

''He was everything a good drummer should be," jazz critic and historian Ira Gitler told the Times yesterday. ''His technique and his feel for the drums were used in the service of whatever group he was playing with, from Stan Kenton's large orchestra to piano trios."

As a drummer, Gitler said, Mr. Levey ''began to come into his own at the time Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were changing American music. That's when he played on 52nd Street, so he was in on the beginning of the great jazz movement."

''Stan Levey: The Original Original," a DVD in which Mr. Levey discussed his life in jazz and recounted stories of the greats he worked with during his 30-year career, was released in February. The documentary includes rare film clips of Parker, Miles Davis, and other musicians.

Born in 1926, Mr. Levey was the son of a car dealer and fight promoter. ''I sort of grew up in the gyms, skipping rope with my buddies, the boxers," he said in 1989.

While growing up, Mr. Levey made rhythms with spoons and forks before teaching himself to play the drums. One night, he dropped in at a local club where Gillespie was playing and asked to sit in.

''At first, Dizzy thought it was a joke, but he liked me, and his drummer had just quit, so I got the job -- at $18 a week," recalled Mr. Levey, who dropped out of high school and spent his days cleaning cars on his father's car lot and his nights at the club.

As a studio musician, Mr. Levey performed on more than 2,000 recordings with singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee. He also played on the soundtracks of more than 300 movies and more than 3,000 TV show episodes.

Retiring from the music business in 1973, he turned to photography, working for major ad agencies and shooting everything from fashion to industrial photos.

In addition to his wife of 53 years, Mr. Levey leaves three sons, Chris of Easton, Md., David of San Antonio, and Robert of Aspen, Colo.; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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