April is Jazz Appreciation Month!
Each April since 1991, Jazz Appreciation Month is celebrated all across the United States and in twenty countries. Created by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, JAM’s goal is to focus attention on JAZZ as both an historical and living, uniquely American art form.
The focus of Jazz Monthly.Com’s cover story is to feature someone “who has made significant contributions in shaping or re-shaping the music world as we know it today”. We are pleased to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month by featuring JOHN LEVY, the oldest living National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master. As an NEA Jazz Master, John distinguished himself as one “whose excellence, impact, and significant contributions have helped to keep the important tradition of jazz alive”.
John will be doing a little celebrating of his own on April 11th when he turns 97! This amazing jazz artist and entrepreneur is still going strong as evidenced with the release of “Strollin": A Jazz Life Through John Levy’s Personal Lens”. This book is a follow up to his celebrated 2000 biography, “Men, Women, and Girl Singers: My Life as a Musician Turned Talent Manager.” Written for him by his wife and longtime collaborator Devra Hall Levy, it described his early years, musical influences and the path that led him to become one of the heroes of jazz whose work helped define how the American public thinks of jazz.
“Strollin” is Hall Levy’s answer to fan requests for a sequel. Peppered liberally with Levy’s reminiscences, this book provides a fascinating look into his extraordinary life and their collection of personal snapshots, along with Leroy Hamilton’s professional photographs, capture a “you are there” feeling as John traveled around the world and through the decades promoting Jazz.
John Levy was born on April 11, 1912 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the great-grandson of slaves. As a child, he heard the bass lines in the music played on the street floats in New Orleans, and he recalls that that is where he learned about the importance of the bass. “The bass is exactly what it says. It is the basis. It is the foundation. Then everything rises above that foundation”.
He spent his first six years in Louisiana before moving with his family to Chicago. John was a good student and was well liked by his teachers. At an early age, he demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit that would later lead him to be both bass player and businessman for the Stuff Smith Trio. In 1944, the Trio left Chicago for a stint at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street in New York City—“the street of jazz and dreams” -- John and pianist Jimmy Jones never looked back. Throughout the 40’s, John continued to work with some of the jazz greats such as Ben Webster, Erroll Garner, and Milt Jackson. He also appeared with Billie Holiday at her comeback Carnegie Hall concert in 1948.