Born: April 11, 1912 | Died: January 20, 2012 Primary Instrument: Bass
John Levy, born April 11, 1912 in New Orleans, grew up in Chicago. When he was just a kid, a well-intentioned teacher told him to get a job at the Post Office so that he’d have a secure future. He didn’t listen to her because he imagined himself sitting behind a big desk. He didn’t know what he’d be doing at that desk, but he knew that he would be in business. He also loved music--jazz music. Years later, his love and his vision finally merged, leading him to become a personal manager in his own office with his own big desk.
It did not happen overnight. John started out as a jazz musician. He went to New York in August of 1944 to play with the Stuff Smith Trio at the Onyx Club. He was a good bass player, and had the privilege of working with many of the jazz greats including such renowned talents as Ben Webster, Errol Garner, and Milt Jackson. He also appeared with Billie Holiday at her comeback Carnegie Hall concert in 1948.
The following year, George Shearing heard him play at the famed Birdland club, and soon after John became the bassist in the original George Shearing Quintet. Touring the country with one of the hottest groups of the day, John not only played bass but also acted as Shearing's road manager. His business acumen and promotional astuteness won out; in 1951 John put down his bass to become a full-time personal manager--the first black personal manager in the pop or jazz music field. John Levy Enterprises, Inc. was open for business.
His transition from the ranks of jazz instrumentalist to his current eminence in the personal management field was a smooth one, despite the obstacles inherent in being a black businessman during that time. The rare combination of musical talent and shrewd business savvy made it possible for John to discover new talent and develop it to its maximum potential without the usual precarious trial and error struggle experienced by most artists.
By the 1960s, John’s client roster not only included George Shearing, but also Dakota Staton, Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgomery, Joe Williams, Shirley Horn, Ramsey Lewis, and others. Most weeks, you could find one or more of John's clients listed in the top ten of Billboard magazine's pop music charts. Back then, “jazz” was the popular music.
Some of the most successful jazz luminaries in the music world testify to the exceptional success of his all-encompassing methods. It was John Levy who first encouraged musicians to retain the publishing rights to their own compositions and set up publishing companies for his clients. In addition to his varied experiences in personal management, John often found himself in the role of both concert promoter and record producer.
His years of success in all areas has earned him an impeccable reputation in the entertainment industry, where he is 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.
The impressive roster of notables handled by John Levy over the past six decades is vast. A brief listing of the 85+ artists would have to include: Cannonball Adderley, Brook Benton, Andy & the Bey Sisters, Betty Carter, Randy Crawford, Lou Donaldson, Roberta Flack, Arsenio Hall, Herbie Hancock, Donny Hathaway, Eddie Harris, Johnny Hartman, Shirley Horn, Freddie Hubbard, Ahmad Jamal, Henry Johnson, Etta Jones, Yusef Lateef, Ramsey Lewis, Abby Lincoln, Herbie Mann, Letta Mbulu, Les McCann, Wes Montgomery, Billy Paul, Dianne Reeves, Marlena Shaw, George Shearing, Dakota Staton, Billy Taylor, Stanley Turrentine, Sarah Vaughan, Maxine Weldon, Joe Williams, and Nancy Wilson.
In the fall of 1997, at the age of 85, Levy's contribution to the world of jazz was formally recognized as he was inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame. In January 2006 he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, America's most prestigious prize in the field of Jazz. Today, John is still at work managing longtime clients and developing new talents. Joe Williams, longtime friend since the 1940s and client since the early 1960s, died March 29, 1999. His current clients include song-stylist Nancy Wilson (who has retired from touring but will continue to record and appear on special concerts), and jazz vocalist Clairdee.