updated 01/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 01/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
As the magazine's resident jazz maven, Levin has gotten used to adjusting his rhythms to those of oftentimes temperamental night owls, including such performers as the late Count Basie and the Modern Jazz Quartet. "With many jazz musicians, one wrong question that hints of ignorance or disrespect and it's all over," he says, adding: "Of course, I can't say I blame them." In Hancock's case Levin found trading conversational licks in the wee hours to be an uplifting process. "There is a bit of Candide in Herbie," he says. "He isn't naive, but mentally he creates the best of all possible worlds for himself."
Levin, the son of a custom picture framer and a rabbi's secretary, has loved music since the day as a boy in East Orange, N.J. when he first played the Sabre Dance from Aram Khachaturian's Gayne ballet on a portable record player. "There was such fury and freedom in it, I had to hear it over and over," he says. "I played it at every speed, including 16 and 78 RPM, so I could hear everything that was going on." Later at Boston University, Levin was the disc jockey for a late night jazz program on WBUR-FM. He was also managing editor of the B.U. News.
After graduation, Levin wrote for New Jersey's Bergen Record, TV Guide and Us magazine before joining PEOPLE eight years ago. At his 1976 wedding to Susan Fruchtman, he gave a rousing rendition on alto saxophone of Thelonious Monk's Straight, No Chaser. Now residents of a renovated 1888 bank building in Jersey City, Eric and Susan, 37, a lawyer, alternate night duties caring for their 4-month-old son, Michael Louis, for whom Eric improvises simple melodies. "Whether I'm saying 'Let's change your diaper' or just responding to his noises, I find myself singing," he says. "The rhythm is already there in the words, and the melody flows naturally from my feelings. As Henry Miller once wrote, 'Music is the can opener of the soul.' "