Born in Bulgaria, Milcho Leviev graduated from the Bulgarian State Music Academy with a Masters Degree in composition.
In the early ‘60s he was musical director for the State Drama Theater and the Bulgarian radio/television’s big band. Internationally acclaimed as a jazz performer, leading the Jazz Focus Quartet (prize winner at the first Montreux festival in 1967), he remained active as a composer, experimenting with music that was performed by both classical and jazz ensembles. Among his early compositions is Music for Big Band and Symphony Orchestra.
In the ‘70s, he was a key member of the highly regarded Don Ellis Orchestra. His piano virtuosity and ability to play effortlessly in odd meters – a skill that arose from familiarity with Bulgarian folk music – were major contributions to the fruitful association with Ellis. He contributed two chapters to Don Ellis’s The New Rhythm Book.
Milcho worked with Willie Bobo, John Klemmer, Airto Moreira and Roy Haynes, and recorded with I. Subramaniam, Billy Cobham, and as the leader of a bop quartet that included Art Pepper (two very impressive albums: Blues for the Fisherman and True Blues). This famous quartet regularly recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London. Leviev ably mixed the odd-metered tunes of his Bulgarian background with an excellent post-bop piano technique.
In the early ‘80s, he worked with Manhattan Transfer (for whom he arranged Parker’s Confirmation), wrote arrangements for and recorded with Al Jarreau, and founded the famous jazz quartet Free Flight. That group featured a fusion of jazz, rock, and classical music. During the Free Flight period, he also performed and recorded as a member of Gerald Wilson’s big band.
One of Milcho Leviev’s most impressive associations was formed with Dave Holand. This duo recorded the memorable album The Oracle-Live at Suntory Hall in Japan. He continues to work frequently with many all-star jazz musicians in Los Angeles and elsewhere, playing with Ray Pizzi, Ray Brown, Buddy Collette, Oscar Brashear, Jack Sheldon, Mundell Lowe, Dusan Bogdanovic, Billy Cobham et al.
In the ‘90s, he did numerous solo European tours, and in 1995 received an honorary doctorate and award on merit from the Paris Académie internationale des arts. Milcho Leviev is a lecturer on jazz composition and improvisation at the University of Southern California, and frequently performs with the American Jazz Institute ensembles.