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John Levy, First African-American Jazz Manager, Dies at 99

Bassist-turned-businessman worked with Freddie Hubbard, Cannonball Adderley, others

John Levy, a bassist who became a prominent manager of major jazz artists, died Jan. 20 in Altadena, Calif., at age 99. A cause of death for the NEA Jazz Master was not revealed, although Levy had recently been treated for heart problems. Credited as the first African-American business manager in the jazz field, Levy’s clients included, at various times, Freddie Hubbard, Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley, Betty Carter, Roberta Flack, Ramsey Lewis, Ahmad Jamal, Abbey Lincoln and others.

Born in 1912 in New Orleans, Levy grew up in Chicago, where he first took up the bass in his teens. After working regularly in Chicago, he moved to New York while a member of violinist Stuff Smith’s band. He also played behind such jazz giants as Billie Holiday, Billy Taylor and Lennie Tristano and recorded with Erroll Garner, among others. Levy became a member of British pianist George Shearing’s quintet in the late ’40s and began taking on business responsibilities for the band, which led to Levy, who was self-taught in business, forming his own management company, John Levy Enterprises, in 1951. Shearing became Levy’s first client, and Levy’s management roster eventually took on numerous other clients-others who trusted Levy with their business affairs included Wes Montgomery, Les McCann, Shirley Horn, Herbie Hancock and Joe Williams. He also managed comedian Arsenio Hall.

Levy was awarded with the NEA Jazz Master designation in 2006.

Originally Published