John Levy (pictured), a celebrated bassist who went on to manage the business affairs of a staggering list of prominent jazz musicians, has died at the age of 99. Levy’s wife, Devra Hall Levy, said that her husband died quietly in her arms on Friday in their home in Altadena, Calif., according to the Washington Post.
As a personal manager, Levy assisted the careers of jazz legends Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Hancock, Cannonball Adderly, and Freddie Hubbard among others. Vocalists Nancy Wilson, Roberta Flack, and the late Betty Carter saw their careers flourish under Levy’s tutelage as well. Levy also worked with stars outside of music, managing comedian-actor Arsenio Hall for a time. According to an NPR report, Levy didn’t use binding contracts with the artists he managed.
Levy was recognized as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006, receiving the nation’s highest honor nine years after his induction into the International Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997.
Levy’s decision to become a manager and open his management company, John Levy Enterprises Inc., was inspired by a need to make the best life for artists in a time where racism and segregation threatened to silence many of the artists he helped manage.
While Levy was born in New Orleans on April 11, he grew up in Chicago. Never finishing high school, Levy began playing piano and subsequently picked up the bass all while working a series of odd jobs. After a stint on Chicago’s club scene, he moved to New York City in 1944, which eventually led him to playing behind legendary jazz songstress Billy Holiday at her famous Carnegie Hall appearance in 1948.
Levy’s 2001 biography, “Men, Women, And Girl Singers: My Life As A Musician Turned Talent Manager,”wasco-written with his wife. It detailed Levy’s long career and push for equal treatment of entertainers of all races and genders.
Levy is survived by his wife, Devra; three children, Michael, Pamela, and Samara; 14 grandchildren; and a host of great-grandchildren.