For 15 years or so Howard Levy plied his uniquely multifaceted craft as one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets. But since 1990, when he brought his keyboard and harmonica work to the pop-jazz group Bela Fleck and the Fleck-Tones (and more recently to the world-music band Trio Globo), the populace outside Chicago has gotten a glimpse of what it had been missing. Levy is a musical polymath who masters instruments and idioms the way a thirsty plant absorbs water. In the early 70s, when he discovered how to bend the notes of an ordinary blues harmonica up (or sharp) as well as down (the traditional flatted or “blue” note), he accomplished what such jazz artists as Milt Jackson and John Coltrane had done for the vibraphone and the soprano sax: he created a style that makes people hear the instrument in a new way. Since then he has picked up the flute and the guitar, begun sitting in with a variety of ethnic-music bands, continued to write a dizzying array of original songs, and put together a children’s program demonstrating music from around the world on a treasure trove of small percussion instruments. Levy uses so many musical tools to play so many kinds of music in so many different formats that he couldn’t possibly squeeze the range of his talents into one evening–which is why he’ll present five quite distinct programs next week at the Jazz Buffet. Tuesday is Bluesday, featuring keyboardist Chris Cameron and guitarist Phil Miller; Wednesday Levy focuses on Latin jazz, joined by guitarist Ernie Denov and ace percussionists Ruben Alvarez and Joe Rendon; on Thursday it’s Word Jazz, starring fabled voice man Ken Nordine, the remarkable vocalist Bonnie Herman, and Larry Gray on cello; and next Friday and Saturday Levy leads his regular quartet–pianist Jon Weber, bassist Eric Hochberg, and drummer Paul Wertico (of the Pat Metheny Group). What’s more, you can expect surprise guests to drop in throughout the week and even some vocal work by Levy himself–including his 12-bar Middle Eastern hybrid, the “I Felafel Blues” (like I could make that up?). Tuesday through Thursday, 9 PM, and next Friday and Saturday, March 31 and April 1, 9 PM and 11 PM, Jazz Buffet, 2556 W. Diversey; 862-0055.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Brad Miller.