Peter Levinson

Author and publicist Peter J. Levinson (1934-2008) was a gentle nudge. Which is probably why so many jazz legends and jazz journalists loved him. His clients included Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee, Bill Evans, Dr. Billy Taylor (his first and longest client) and dozens of others. Peter was persistent — but strictly old school. He made being a jazz publicist viable -- he'd emphasize the publicist was the fifth man in a quartet, and he graduated a generation of assistants into the profession. He worked tirelessly cajoling and caressing media contacts on behalf of clients — without offending or burning bridges.

Over the years, as the number of jazz legends dwindled, Peter took on new clients, some of whom were a harder sell. Back about a year and a half ago, Peter began an e-mail campaign asking me to review a new album by a jazz artist he represented. Peter was a fan of my blog, and said so in a manner that remarkably wasn’t faux or quid pro quo.

But despite Peter’s persistence and charm, I just couldn’t bring myself to review the CD. When I started JazzWax in August 2007, I promised myself I’d never write about music I wasn’t madly in love with, no matter what. It’s not fair to readers. I also promised myself I wouldn’t pan artists or performances for sport. That isn’t fair to artists. Peter said he understood completely. But over the weeks that followed, Peter continued to dash off e-mails updating me on the artist’s media coverage and commenting on my various posts.

I never wrote about Peter’s client or their CD. But I did develop enormous respect for him — both as an elegant advocate for jazz artists and as a prolific writer. Peter was author of Trumpet Blues: The Life of Harry James, September in the Rain: The Life of Nelson Riddle, Tommy Dorsey: Livin' in a Great Big Way and Puttin’ on the Ritz: Fred Astaire and the Fine Art of Panache, A Biography. Not bad for a busy publicist.

In looking over Peter’s last e-mails to me, I find I’m still struck by how polite and easy-going he was as he tried to get his clients e-ink. I’m also struck by how effective Peter was at his craft. I can barely remember the name of that client he represented. But I never forgot Peter. — Marc Myers

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