"I have been in attendance at the last three Jazz Masters ceremonies and not in my wildest imagination did I expect to ever receive this most prestigious award. To be so honored for helping talented artists bring jazz and joy into the lives of audiences is the thrill of a lifetime."
Renowned as a leading representative of jazz musicians, and as the first African American to work in the music industry as a personal manager, John Levy was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1912. His mother was a midwife and nurse, and his father was an engine stoker on the railroad. When Levy was six, his family moved to Chicago, where a wellmeaning schoolteacher would encourage him to find a steady job at the post office. He did work there for a while, but he also began gigging around town as a jazz bassist.
In 1944, Levy left Chicago with the Stuff Smith Trio to play an extended engagement at the Onyx club on New York City's 52nd Street. Over the next years, he was to play with many jazz notables, including Ben Webster, Buddy Rich, Errol Garner, Milt Jackson, and Billy Taylor, as well as with Billie Holiday at her comeback performance at Carnegie Hall in 1948.
In 1949, George Shearing heard Levy play at Birdland with Buddy Rich's big band and hired him for his own group, which featured Buddy DeFranco. As Levy toured the country playing with the original George Shearing Quintet, he gradually took on the role of road manager. Finally, in 1951, Levy put aside performing to become the group's full-time manager, making music-industry history and establishing the career he would follow for the next half-century.
Levy's client roster over the years has included Nat and Cannonball Adderley, Betty Carter, Roberta Flack, Herbie Hancock, Shirley Horn, Freddie Hubbard, Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, Abbey Lincoln, Herbie Mann, Wes Montgomery, Carol Sloane, Joe Williams, and Nancy Wilson, as well as Arsenio Hall (the only comedian he has managed among some 100 entertainers). In recognition of his achievements, Levy has received awards such as a certificate of appreciation from Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley (1991), induction into the International Jazz Hall of Fame (1997), and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Los Angeles Jazz Society (2002). His autobiography, Men, Women, and Girl Singers: My Life as a Musician Turned Talent Manager, written with his wife Devra Hall, was published in 2001 and expanded into a photo book, Strollin': A Jazz Life through John Levy's Personal Lens, in 2008 on the occasion of his 96th birthday.
Stuff Smith, The 1943 Trio, Progressive, 1943
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