Word came this morning from Devra Hall Levy that her husband John, a major advocate for and representative of jazz musicians, is gone. Levy died in his sleep on Friday at home in Altadena, California. He was 99.
Ahmad Jamal recently described Levy as “one of the foremost supportive bassists” of the postwar period. In that role, beginning as a teenager, Levy worked with Ray Nance, Earl Hines, Stuff Smith, Ben Webster and Lennie Tristano, among dozens of other prominent jazz figures. On the right, we see him with Jimmy Jones in 1947. When he was playing with the George Shearing Quintet in the late 1940s, Levy took over the business affairs of the group and soon made a career transition to full-time artist management. His client roster included Shearing, Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson, Wes Montgomery, Herbie Hancock, Joe Williams, Abbey Lincoln and Freddie Hubbard. In 2006, Levy was named an NEA Jazz Master of the National Endowment for the Arts.
As he looked forward to celebrating his 100th birthday on April 11, his wife asked people who knew John to send memories and impressions. The responses from friends, clients, and musicians who appreciated his playing are posted on the Celebration page of Devra’s Lushlife website. Hancock’s note is typical of the admiration they expressed. He wrote, in part:
I want to thank you for your lifelong support and appreciation of culture, especially jazz. Yes, I also know you as a bass player on several landmark recordings before you got a desk job. I’ve been a constant admirer of your elegance and style. Your behavior as a compassionate human being is a model for us all. You’re also continually a man of action and justice.
Dear John and Devra,
When I was researching the Paul Desmond biography and invaded your house for a long evening, I met John for the first time. After we had talked at length, you two took me to an elegant restaurant. I remember a long, leisurely meal that was accompanied by stories, laughter and comfortable, amused, silences. John, the warmth of that occasion, the time at Monterey when all of us and Gerald Wilson sat together in the Hunt Club, hanging out together at the NEA Jazz Masters awards in New York in 2006, you made me feel that we had been friends forever. That’s how I feel about you to this day. I always will. What a pleasure and a privilege it is to know you.
From his wife’s announcement:
According to Levy’s wishes, there will be no funeral service. Donations may be made to the “MCG Jazz John Levy Fund” which is earmarked for the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild’s nationwide “Jazz Is Life” educational programs.
John Levy’s memorial will be his work, not only on behalf of his clients but also for fair and equal treatment of all musicians andlest we forgetfor that supportive bass playing. Here he is in 1950 with Shearing, Don Elliott on vibes, Chuck Wayne on guitar and drummer Denzil Best. The piece is Best’s “Move.”
John Levy RIP.