January-21st-2012, 08:05 PM
NEA JAZZ MASTER JOHN LEVY - R.I.P.
JOHN LEVY, MANAGER TO COUNTLESS JAZZ LUMINARIES, DIES AT AGE 99
John Levy, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and renowned personal manager for many jazz greats, died on January 20th, less than three months shy of his 100th birthday. His wife, Devra Hall Levy said he was sleeping peacefully in her arms at home in Altadena when his heart finally gave out.
An induction into the International Jazz Hall of Fame (1997) and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Jazz Society were among the many honors Levy received during his career. His client roster read like a veritable who’s who of jazz and included Cannonball Adderley, Betty Carter, Randy Crawford, Roberta Flack, Herbie Hancock, Shirley Horn, Freddie Hubbard, Ahmad Jamal, Abbey Lincoln, Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Mann, Les McCann, Wes Montgomery, George Shearing, Dakota Staton, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Williams, and Nancy Wilson, who remains a John Levy Enterprises client to this day.
John Levy was born in New Orleans on April 11, 1912. When he was a boy, his teacher urged him to get a job in the Post Office so he would have security in life. He didn’t listen. He became known internationally as one of the top jazz managers in the world. As a personal manager who throughout the course of his career managed more than eighty-five artists, Levy made millions of dollars for his clients, who have risen from sometimes-total anonymity to the heights of success.
Like many Southern black children of his era, John Levy saw his formal education end before it had barely begun. Yet his astonishing business acumen won the respect of people at every level of the music industry—from the struggling artists to the corporate brass of the recording giants.
Even now there are few places in the world where a young person can learn the intricacies of personal management. In Levy’s day there were none. John’s university was the street parades in 1920s New Orleans, and the jazz musicians riding on the floats; it was the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago, and Clarence Black’s house band; and the sound of Duke Ellington and the Glenn Miller bands; and Benny Goodman at the Sherman Hotel and Fletcher Henderson at the Grand Terrace.
Though Levy was an accomplished bassist in his own right, it was the business aspect of the music industry to which he dedicated his life. From the time he put aside his bass to handle the business affairs of the George Shearing Quintet in 1951, he learned how to guide raw talent to polished professionalism.
Working in the dual roles of both performer and road manager, he gradually grew into a career in personal management, becoming the first African-American personal manager in the jazz field. But his drive pushed him even further, and soon he was promoting concerts and producing records. His years of success in all these areas earned him an impeccable reputation in the entertainment industry, where he was both respected and admired by other managers, booking agents, concert promoters, entertainment lawyers and accountants, record company executives, and last but not least, the artists themselves.
He is survived by his wife Devra Hall Levy of Altadena, CA, his son Michael Levy and daughter Pamela McRae both of Youngstown, OH, daughters Samara Levy of San Diego, CA, and Jole Levy of New York, NY, fifteen grandchildren, and a host of great-grandchildren.
According to Levy’s wishes, there will be no funeral service. Donations may be made to the “MCG Jazz John Levy Fund” which is earmarked for the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild’s “Jazz Is Life” educational programs nationwide
January-21st-2012, 08:47 PM
i'm mourning the loss of my dear friend of over 40 years but as a close friend of mine, Marla, just wrote to me, "John had a good life, left the world a better place through his actions and passed away peacefully; amen."
i wish that for all my loved ones.
p.s. i just realized that John took the picture of me and Cannon in '73 that i just started using as my avatar.
Last edited by Valerie; January-21st-2012 at 08:49 PM.
January-22nd-2012, 11:14 AM
I've lost a treasured "family member." Right now it's hard to think about the rest. But I surely do agree with what Marla said. We need more John Levy's in this world.
"Life's short, drink well."
January-26th-2012, 09:19 AM
The New York Times finally posted John's obit:
John Levy, Bassist and Talent Manager, Dies at 99
By NATE CHINEN
John Levy, a bassist and pioneering talent manager whose roster included some of the biggest names in jazz, notably Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Cannonball Adderley and Wes Montgomery, died on Friday at his home in Altadena, Calif. He was 99.
His death was confirmed by his wife and business partner, Devra Hall Levy.
Widely credited as the first African-American personal manager in jazz, Mr. Levy entered that profession by happenstance: he was a member of the original George Shearing Quintet in the late 1940s, and by virtue of his diligent practicality, he gradually found himself entrusted with most of the group’s business decisions. He established his management company, John Levy Enterprises, in 1951; Shearing, the British pianist then still riding the momentum of an international hit, “September in the Rain,” became his first client.
He would go on to represent singers like Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln and Shirley Horn; pace-setting bandleaders like Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, Freddie Hubbard and Herbie Hancock; and crossover stars like Roberta Flack and Les McCann.
Self-taught as a businessman, Mr. Levy cultivated bonds of trust with his clients, preferring a handshake to a formal contract. At a time when jazz musicians were often at the mercy of inequitable deals with club owners, record labels and publishing houses, he earned a reputation for clear-eyed tenacity.
In dealing with artists it didn’t hurt that Mr. Levy was an accomplished jazz musician himself. In the handful of years before he became a full-time manager, he had accompanied Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall; worked with the tenor saxophonists Don Byas and Lucky Thompson; and recorded in a trio with the pianist Lennie Tristano and the guitarist Billy Bauer. He anchored Shearing’s modern but accessible quintet. And he was on one of the first recordings by the pianist Erroll Garner.
John Levy was born on April 11, 1912, in New Orleans. His father, John, was a railroad engine stoker; his mother, Laura, a midwife and nurse. Mr. Levy said he was largely reared by his grandparents. When he was 5 his family moved to Chicago, taking an apartment above the Royal Gardens, a dance hall that featured New Orleans jazz. He became a bassist in his teens after dabbling in piano and violin; the bassist Milt Hinton, though only a few years older, was a mentor.
Mr. Levy found his foothold in the Chicago jazz scene while working a day job at the post office, running a small-time numbers racket and starting a family with his first wife, Gladys. He bought a cheap plywood bass, painted white, that would serve him through most of his musical career. Through the black musicians’ union he landed a gig with the violinist Stuff Smith, who ended up bringing him to New York.
The Stuff Smith Trio, also featuring the pianist Jimmy Jones, held a steady engagement at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street, beginning in 1944; from time to time the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster would join as a special guest.
Mr. Levy had no problem finding subsequent work, especially once he formed a working partnership with the drummer Denzil Best, his band mate in the Shearing Quintet. The two hired themselves out as a rhythm section.
Mr. Levy’s first three marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife; his son, Michael; his daughters Pamela McRae, Samara Levy and Jole Levy; 15 grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. His second wife, Gail Fisher, was among the first black actresses to have a prominent role in a primetime dramatic series, “Mannix.” She died in 2000.
In 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts recognized Levy as a Jazz Master, the nation’s highest jazz honor.
"Life's short, drink well."