If one was to believe descriptive snippets, the thing to do when Elliott Levin approaches is find a place to hide. In a worst case scenario, try to climb a tree -- at least, that is the advice hikers would receive about the oncoming approach of something "ferocious...frenzied...bearlike." However, the comparison with bears is based on the size and appearance of the Philadelphia performer, while the other adjectives are filling one of their more esoteric purposes in the English language, attempting to describe just what it is free jazz performers do when they blow into their horns. Whatever it is, Levin does a lot of it, on tenor saxophone and flute. He also has a quite active career as a published poet and likes to combine the two aesthetics in his performances, much to the delight of the growing live poetry audience and to the chagrin of hipsters who insist jazz poetry is a form of torture, worse than cold showers. Other listeners might find the entire free jazz experience itself torture, in which case it's back to the beginning as far as advice regarding Levin: there is nothing watered-down or weak about his performances, no attempt to make the music a bit more accessible to the novices, tender-hearted or just plain wimpy. He also doesn't seem to play music as if it was connected to some kind of career strategy, other than to just play all the time. Besides playing professionally with a variety of groups, embarking on semi-regular journeys around the country, he also jams. No description of the Philly jazz scene exists that does not include something along the lines of "And Elliott Levin has been known to sit in, buggin' out with his sax and flute..." A Philadelphia drummer described Levin as "the guy that calls you at two in the morning, wanting you to haul your drums over to some jam session."
Levin grew up in Philly, but studied music and creative writing on the west coast at the University of Oregon. He took private lessons with a former Philadelphia Orchestra saxophonist, Michael Guera, and embarked on further research with the great jazz pianist, Cecil Taylor, in whose groups Levin has also performed. Claire Polin is Levin's primary instructor on flute. The weekend grocery list of Levin credits includes playing with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes for a decade as the saxophonist in the Sound of Philadelphia band, as well as with Odean Popes' Saxophone Choir, Tyrone Hill, Don Preston, Scram!, New Ghost, Atzilut (Fourth World), Talking Free Bebop, and various collaborations with bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma. Levin's gigs with Taylor included the groups Phthongas and Unit Core Ensemble, and he can be heard on the Taylor FMP album Live in Berlin. On the poetry scene he has performed with Miguel Algarin, Gloria Tropp, Mbali Umoja, Marty Watt, and Frank Messina. Levin has published several books of his verse, which also appears in publications such as L.A. Weekly, Blue Beat Jacket, The Painted Word, Po' Fly, Vital Pulse, and Poets and Prophets. In 1999, Levin was featured at a number of European jazz festivals. He has received awards from New American Radio in New York, 5he City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts, and the California Endowment for the Humanities.