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John Levy John Levy

John Levy is an NEA Jazz Master

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.

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