Bertram Levy was born in New York in 1941 into a family of classical, swing and klezmer musicians. He started playing classical music on the piano from an early age however his destiny was to be in a different direction. At age 14 he embraced the 5-string banjo and immersed himself in Southern folk music. As a result he chose to attend college in Atlanta, Georgia where he played bluegrass banjo for six years. In l965 he moved to Durham, North Carolina to study medicine. There, he met a fellow graduate student, Alan Jabbour who had had been searching out fiddle tunes from old-time fiddlers in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, including the extraordinary Western Virginia fiddler Henry Reed. Bertram learned this repertoire from Alan and, together with Tommy and Bobbie Thompson, formed the legendary Hollow Rock String Band. The Hollow Rock was the first young urban band to play the repertoire collected directly from the old timers. Their 1968 album, “Traditional Dance Tunes”, continues to sell all over the world and is credited with launching the traditional American fiddle music revival of the 60’s and 70’s. One of the cuts from the album (“Over the Waterfall”) is included in the Smithsonian’s CD, “The History of American Folk Music”.
In the late 1960s, Bertram Levy moved to California and imbued with the mission to keep the music alive,, spread the Southern fiddle revival to an entire generation of West Coast musicians. It was during these years that Bertram developed his unique banjo style, a crossover of bluegrass and old-time claw-hammer styles played on nylon strings. He eventually debuted this unique banjo style in his now classic recording, “That Old Gut Feeling.” He was awarded banjo player of the year by Frets magazine in 1974. .
Bertram spent 1974 -75 in Dublin, Ireland, studying Irish music
and its relationship to the roots of American folk music. He then settled in Port Townsend, Washington, where he played music and
practiced medicine for 30 years. He has been described by Victory magazine as ” a Washington Landmark.” In 1977 he created the prestigious Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend The festival has become the model for traditional music festivals throughout the United States. The festival now in its 34th year has produced 2 generations of traditional musicians. Along with fiddle styles of the United States, the festival has introduced many international figures such as the 90 year old Mexican virtuoso Juan Reynosa to American audiences.
In addition to the banjo, Bertram has enjoyed an international reputation as an Anglo concertina virtuoso. Described by Concertina Magazine as ” the Maestro,” he has a expanded the concertina repertoire to include the compositions of Klezmer clarinetist David Tarras, Brazilian mandolinist Jacob Bittencourt, and the Argentine Bandoneon innovator Astor Piazzolla. . Bertram recorded several concertina albums including the “Sageflower Suite” with Frank Ferrell and “First Generation” with Peter Ostroushko in which he arranged Southern fiddle tunes into suites. His definitive instructional tutor for the instrument, “The Anglo Concertina Demystified”, continues to be the most widely used instructional method in the concertina world.
He has appeared in major festivals throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe and has been featured in over a dozen albums and film scores. In addition has been highlighted in several national broadcasts of “The Prairie Home Companion” show with Garrison Keillor. In 1996 he was invited by the Mexican government to represent the United States in the Juan Reynosa festival that toured Mexico
In 1989 Bertram met Astor Piazzolla and was so moved by Piazzolla’s music that he traveled to Buenos Aires, acquired a bandoneon, and began his bandoneon studies. For four years, he studied in Paris with bandoneon maestro Cesar Stroscio and in 1999 he founded the sexteto typico, Tangoheart http://www.tangoheart.com. that specializes in both traditional tango and tango nuevo. In 2005 he retired from his medical career and moved to Buenos Aires to study bandoneon with Rodolfo Daluisio at the Conservatory de Manuel de Falla.
Bertram Levy is a great repository of the repertoire and history of the Southern Fiddle music. He has visited and collected from some of the greatest fiddle luminaries of the early 20th century including Tommy Jarrell, Henry Reed, Fred Cockerham Oscar Wright, Lee Triplett and Burl Hammonds. In the last few years he has toured with Alan Jabbour as a fiddle banjo duo and together with James Reed, the son of the late Henry Reed, recorded the CD “A Henry Reed Reunion,” which celebrates the extraordinary repertoire of the late Henry Reed This year Bertram published a second concertina tutor , “American Fiddle Styles for the Anglo Concertina” which has been described as “the Microkosmos of the Anglo concertina”.
He presently splits his time between performing teaching and writing from his home in Port Townsend, Washington and studying bandoneon with Rodolfo Daluisio in Buenos Aires.