Bassist and talent manager John Levy has passed away at the age of 99. In addition to Levy’s own career of playing with artists like Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Don Byas, Lennie Tristano and George Shearing, Levy managed a host of jazz legends including Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley, and Wes Montgomery. He’s often credited as the first African-American personal manager in jazz.
Born in in 1912 in New Orleans, Levy and his family moved to Chicago when he was five years old. Once in the windy city, he began playing piano and violin. He switched to bass in his teens and was mentored by the legendary Milt Hinton. After landing a gig with violinist Stuff Smith, Levy moved to New York, where he got work with the George Shearing Quintet in the late 1940s.
It was with Shearing’s group that Levy’s hard work and responsibility led to him taking over the band’s business decisions. He created John Levy Enterprises in 1951, with Shearing as his first client.
Through the years, Levy represented stars like Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, Freddie Hubbard, Ahmad Jamal, Herbie Hancock, Roberta Flack and Les McCann.
The National Endowment for the Arts recognized him as a Jazz Master in 2006, which is the nation’s top jazz honor.
Our condolences to the family and friends of John Levy.