O.J.'s Trumpet Page Artists and personalities

Jules Levy

"I am the World's Greatest Cornetist."

  Jules Levy
Jules Levy (1838 - 1903)

Jules Levy was perhaps the most celebrated cornetist of the 19th century. He created a great popularity for the cornet in USA as a solo instrument from 1870 to his death in 1803. His fame grew through the rivalry that Patrick Gilmore fostered with Matthew Arbuckle (1828 - 1883). Each stood on opposite sides of the conductor and would alternate with improvised variations on a particular melody as well as entering into other similar challenges.

Levy was born in London, England, on April 24, 1838.

He obtained a cornet at the age of 17 (more below - "How he became a cornetist"). A year later, Dan Godfrey, leader of the Grenadier Guards Band, sent for him to play in one of his bands. He often played in the theatre and for the Royal Opera House Orchestra. It was the performance of his composition 'Whirlwind Polka", played between theatre scenes, that cre­ated a sensation. In 1865 he travelled with a troupe to America. His debut was at the Boston  Music Hall on October 9, 1865. He returned to England and appeared on programs with the great opera singers of the time. On his return engagement to the U.S. in 1869, Levy was hired by Theodore Thomas to play solos in his summer concerts on Central Park, New York City. Levy's life continued full of engagements in Europe and the U.S.

In the early 1870's Gilmore lured him back to the U.S. With and without Gilmore, Levy was constantly travelling the U.S. and Canada during the 1880's and 1890's.

While Levy made some cylinders in the mid 1890's the regrettable fact is the Victor and Columbia records were made during the last three years of his life. Only those records received wide distribution. Nevertheless some of these show flashes of the magnificent Levy.

In his last years Levy was employed as a tester for the C.G. Conn Co. in Elkhart, Indiana. At the time of his death, he was an employee of the Lyon and Healy Band Instrument Co. in Chicago, Illinois.

Jules Levy died in Chicago, on November 28, 1903

In an article published in The New York Times, July 28, 1883, we can read that Minnie Conway had her marriage with Jules Levy annuled. From this article it seems that they were married 15th of August 1875 and that they had two children a boy and a girl.

Based on this article we can also see that Levy already had been married and divorced (?).

In a 1900 Census we can see about his last marriage:
Jules Levy was married to Stella Corbett (born in Belgium, June 1863) in 1885. Stella was a music teacher. They had two daughters, Louise M. Levy (born August 1885 in New York) and Juliette Levy (born February 1895 in New York) and a son, Jules Levy Jr. (born on January 8,1889 in New York).

How he became a cornetist.
In the forword of his menthod book published in 1895, Levy tell about how he became a cornetist:

My Dear Reader: - I have loved the Cornet from my earliest infancy and always had a longing to become a Cornet player. About five years previous to my becoming the proud owner of a Cornet, I procured a mouthpiece which I kept constantly pressed to my lips. I begged and prayed of my father to buy me a Cornet, my chosen instrument. I kept on begging and, after five years persuaded him to accede to my long pleading. He went to an auction room and bought a Cornet for fifteen shillings English money, (about three dollars). Now, considering a good, plain brass Cornet by a first class maker ought to cost about fifty dollars, my readers can readily imagine what kind of an instrument mine was, bought at a sale for a paltry three dollars. Of course I had no instructor, so I began to blow in my own fashion, using my cheeks and puffing them out as though I had apples in my mouth, never dreaming that it was necessary to use the tongue. The concequence was almost fatal to me. I nearly blew myself into consumption. I had to have a physician's advice and after two or three months good treatment, I soon recovered. A short time after, I was adviced to join a band by many people who beleived I would become a good player. A very fine Cornetist in London took a fancy to me, and offered to give me a few lessons. I accepted his offer. He gave med six lessons, and finding an apt pupil he agreed to give me six more, but my misfortune began thus early. He was in a Military Band, and on the eve of giving me my second six lessons, he had to leave the city with his regiment. I nearly broke my heart for I had just begun to know how to blow properly. What could I do without an instructor and only just had my first six lessons. He took pity on my woe-begone appearence and wrote me about twenty progressive exercises, and told me to work hard at them. I did so for at least ten or twelve hours a day, and I am thankful to say that I made great strides through practicing nothing but those studies, which not only made my lungs strong but gave me a strong embouchure.

Herbert Clarke about Levy
I was fortunate to hear Levy when he was at his best in the eighties, as a young man just beginning to play the cornet seriously; his wonderful power, technique and endurance was a marvel to me. How he could master the extreme intervals, from the lowest to the highest notes, without changing the quality of tone or missing a note, the absolute command over the embouchure was wonderful. Levy was acknowledged the head of all cornetists from 1870 through the 1880's. His most critical and sometimes jealous contemporaries had to admit that he had no close rivals with the possible exception of Liberati and Emerson as a soloist. Few came close to Levy, either as to technical ability on the cornet, the power of execution in the most demanding and brilliant compositions, or the ability to sing with his instrument, with all the phrasing and power of the human voice.

His tone was always full and round, his sustaining power when I first heard him was something to marvel at.

Recording pioneer
Jules Levy was probably the first cornetist to make test records for the Edison Company in the 1880's. (Edison invented his cylinder phonograph in 1878).  In the 1890's Levy made a number of cylinders. Some of these cylinders are found (see below).

Levy later (in 1902 - 1903) recorded for both Columbia and Victor Phonograph companies.
His last recording for the Victor Company was his rendition of his own Ye Merry Birds, which was recorded a short time before his death in 1903.

Here is a list of recordings that Levy did as a soloist:
Sound samples
(In MP3 format)
Composer and arranger
Like Arban and other cornet virtuoso, Levy would use well known and popular melodies of his time and make variations on them. But he also made some compositions of his own, like Whirlwind Polka and Levy-Athan Polka.

As a young man, Herbert Clarke used solos by Levy. Here is a quote from Clarke's autobiography:

The solo I had chosen was "The Whirlwind Polka" by Levy, the same that I had played in Canada the previous year at the time I won the cup.

List of compositions and arrangements
Book cover

Levy's Cornet Instructor
Copyright 1895, by C G. Conn & Co., Elkhart, Ind.

Images of this book can be found here (at The Music Library, University of South Carolina)

Jules Levy Jr.
His son, Jules Levy Jr. (
born on January 8,1889 in New York), was also a fine cornetist. He got his first cornet lessons from his father.

Jules Jr. led his own brass quartet, and made records for Edison, Emerson and Pathé. For Edison, he recorded several of his fathers compositions. One can clearly hear that Levy Jr. had a great command over his instruments (first cornet and later trumpet).

In the 1920ies we find Levy Jr. in Sam Lanins band (alongside trumpeter Phil Napoleon, trombonist Miff Mole and saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer).

Martin Weimer who recently restored a Jules Levy Jr. recording, sent me a mp3 version of "Our Own Make Polka" (see link below). Weimer also made this comment:

This one is on my "most improved" list of all the old recordings I have worked on. After the first listen I knew I would be spending many hours on its restoration. I now premiere its third release. The original is available at cylinders.library.ucsb.edu

* Edward Tarr: Die Trompete 4th edition, 2005
* Glenn Bridges: Pioneers in Brass
* ITG: "Cornet Solos by Pioneer American Recording Artists" (ITG 1995)
* Jerome Callet: "Trumpet Secrets" (faximile from Levy's Method book from 1895)
* Herbert L. Clarke: How I became a cornetist
* Internet Archive: Recording from Menlo Park 

* University of South Carolina Music Library (Digital Sheet Music Project)
* Martin Weimer (Levy Jr. recording, mp3 - from an Edison 1917 cylinder + several Levy Sr. mp3 from 1893 and 1902/-03)
* Derek Reaban (info about the Levy Family, 1900 Census)
* New York Times Archive (July 28, 1883 - preview)

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