Peter Levinson, the publicist with a parallel career as a biographer of music and show business figures, died yesterday in a fall in his house in Malibu, California. He was seventy-four. Levinson had been suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, which robbed him of his voice but did not leave him incommunicado. Through the use of a computer capable of converting his typing to speech, he was able to keep working. He had finished a biography of Fred Astaire, which is to be published next spring. He also wrote three other books, biographies of Harry James, Tommy Dorsey and Nelson Riddle. The James book is one of the finest about a jazz artist.
One of the most respected publicists in the jazz field, over the years Levinson represented Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner and Stan Getz, as well as singers Peggy Lee, Mel Torme and Rosemary Clooney, actor Jack Lemmon and films including Fiddler on the Roof and Kramer vs. Kramer.
Peter was the publisher’s publicist for Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. He and I were friends since our mutual time in New York in the 1970s. I shall miss his earnest professionalism, advice, kindness and companionship. For more about Peter Levinson, see the Los Angeles Times obituary.
Mark Sudock says
It is with shock and sadness that I acknowledge the news of Peter Levinson’s passing. Having recently corresponded with Peter (writing Peter on October 13th and receiving his reply on October 16th) this news is especially stunning.
I so admired his vast knowledge and enthusiasm for jazz and the American Popular Songbook. Peter remains a gifted writer. His volumes on Harry James, Nelson Riddle, and Tommy Dorsey are vital documents of this period in music. I eagerly await his upcoming volume on Fred Astaire.
In 2002, Peter was the centerpiece of a two-part interview on the subject of Frank Sinatra’s contribution to the arts. That appearance was documented on the series that I produced and hosted for national public broadcasting, “The Sinatra Songbook.” Peter’s “fly-on-the-wall” accounts of seminal moments in the singer’s career enriched the interview as only the recollections of a first-hand witness could. As these witnesses to artistic history diminish in number, Peter’s first-hand reflections remain that much more significant.
I will always celebrate Peter’s ever-supportive
nature and his encyclopedic knowledge of the American Popular Songbook.
Senior Editor, Features
Host and Producer,
The Sinatra Songbook,
Levinson Friend and Admirer