Devra Hall has chronicled the people, places and audiences in John Levy’s life and coverd his transition from the ranks of jazz instrumentalist (playing bass in the late 1940s with the original George Shearing Quintet) to his current eminence in the personal management field. The book’s highlights include his playing bass with Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall, and his personal relationships with Quincy Jones, Art Tatum and Duke Ellington, to name a few. In addition, Levy talks openly about female superstars’ domineering husbands, celebrities struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, why jazz organizations are not usually successful, why he thinks today’s booking agents lack creativity, and the widely-know but little discussed “black vs. white” record deals.
When John Levy was a boy, his teacher told him to get a job in the Post Office so he would have security in life. He didn’t listen. Today, he is known internationally as one of the top men in his field. As a personal manager to more than eighty-five artists over the past fifty years, Levy has made millions of dollars for his clients, who have risen from sometimes-total anonymity to the rarefied heights of success. Like many Southern black children of his era, John Levy saw his formal education end before it had barely begun. Yet today, his astonishing business acumen has won the respect of people at every level of the music industry—from the struggling artists to the corporate brass of the recording giants.
Even now there are few places in the world where a young person can learn the intricacies of personal management. In Levy’s day there were none. John’s university was the street parades in 1920s New Orleans, and the jazz musicians riding on the floats; it was the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago, and Clarence Black’s house band; and the sound of Duke Ellington and the Glen Miller band; and Benny Goodman at the Sherman Hotel and Fletcher Henderson at the Grand Terrace.
Though Levy is an accomplished musician in his own right, it is the business aspect of the music industry to which he has dedicated his life. From the time he put aside his bass to handle the business affairs of the George Shearing Quintet in 1951, he has learned how to guide a raw talent to polished professionalism. Working in the dual roles of both performer and road manager, he gradually grew a career in personal management.
But his drive pushed him further, and soon he was promoting concerts and producing records. His years of success in all these areas has earned him an impeccable reputation in the entertainment industry, where he is both respected and admired by other managers, booking agents, concert promoters, entertainment lawyers and accountants, record company executives, and last but not least, the artists themselves.
Levy, the great-grandson of Louisiana slaves, was born in Chicago in 1912 and is considered to be the first black talent manager in jazz and popular music. He has made millions of dollars for his clients bringing them from sometimes-total anonymity to the rarefied atmosphere of success.John Levy Enterprises, Inc. has handled a most impressive roster of musical artists over the past thirty years. A very brief listing of the 85+ artists includes: Cannonball Adderley, Betty Carter, Randy Crawford, Roberta Flack, Herbie Hancock, Shirley Horn, Freddie Hubbard, Ahmad Jamal, Abbey Lincoln, Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Mann, Les McCann, Wes Montgomery, George Shearing, Dakota Staton, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Williams, and Nancy Wilson.
If you would like a front row seat to the evolution of jazz, then Men, Women, and Girl Singers is a must read. The bonus is how John managed to survive all the changes in the music industry with his integrity intact. This is a walk through the history of Jazz Music lead by a man of strong, definite values. John Levy is my friend and I’ve watched him live this book! – Wally Amos, author, The Cookie Never Crumbles
John Levy is a soft-spoken genius. An extinct breed. The most important lesson that he taught me is that you don’t have to be a heartless animal, stepping on everyone in your path to win in this game. Good guys can finish first…without a John Levy there would be no me. He’s the total manager! – Arsenio Hall, comedian
My respect and admiration for him is unlimited. His story is unique and should be read by all. I know that John Levy will live forever. The love of all of the people he has worked with, great artists like Nancy Wilson, George Shearing, Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgoery, and Joe Williams, will surely sustain him. – George Wein, producer