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The virtual home of John Levy

Norman Simmons

SARNEY NORMAN SIMMONS – MY HISTORY WITH JOHN LEVY

Most of us are not consciously aware of our mission in life. To me there is only one overall plan that has an unlimited number of options and in the end all comes together in the one.

What’s in a name and how do they all connect? John Levy? George Shearing, Norman Simmons. How did an African descendant get a name like Levy or Simmons? Simmons is an English name and Levy is a Jewish name.

God chose to deliver his special message of salvation to the world, by way of the Jews, who were then at the lowest level of humanity.

I see John levy’s mission to elevate the value of ‘Black Artists’ who had set the parameters of Jazz Performance but existed and functioned at the bottom level of artistic and financial respect and  recognition. John Levy in-turn has made the effort to accomplish the due recognition for almost everyone of his current talented individual Black Artists.

There were many doors and various levels depending on Artistic ability and the vision and cooperative willingness of the artists who John offered to represent. They have all managed to arrive on a plateau higher than where he started with them.

John Levy’s mission was not per se, about ‘Money’… Money was variable based on the value of the artists, who he represented. He represented Black Artists whose talents deserved a higher level of respect and remuneration was the recognition of that respect. Therefore; his business negotiations were successful because they were deserveably fair for all parties.

John Levy was probably the first of all established Personal Managers in the category of jazz Performance. There were Booking Agents who sat behind their desks and managed, by telephone, the artist attached to their agencies. I feel sure that the name Levy intrigued the contacts that John negotiated with; however, John Levy introduced himself personally to his clients, leaving no doubts of who he was and at the same time acquiring their respect and trust.

So, why does an Englishman become the pivotal point of establishing the John Levy Enterprises? Why does Saul, who became Paul, become the disciple separate from the 12 to forward the message of Christ to the Gentiles?
Coming from England, Pianist, George Shearing wanted a certain feel of rhythm and John Levy was his choice on the Bass. He discovered that he had more than just an ordinary bass player. John managed the George Shearing Quintet and George Shearing in turn broke the color barrier to help establish the John Levy Management Offices in New York City. That is a history not to ignored or minimized.

John Levy’s Chicago roots were attached to all the Chicago’s Black Entrepreneurs; particularly DJ Daddy-O Daily and of course singer Joe Williams. John, Joe and Daddy-O were among the Chicago Elegant Alumni. 
Daddy-O Daily communed with, promoted and energized many of the talents in Chicago. He offered my Trio of, Victor Sproles and Vernel Founier, then anchored at The Bee Hive Jazz Club the ‘Gentlemen Of Jazz’ corporate format that eventually became the Ramsey Lewis Trio.

Victor, Vernel and myself, we felt that our careers were individual and did not value being incorporated.  Daddy-O Dailey groomed The Ramsey Lewis Trio locally and then presented them to his friend John Levy for wider recognition. From there a magnificent history was inaugurated; particularly when the group was established under one name; ‘The Ramsey Lewis Trio’.

Ahmad Jamal, as Fritz Jones, had migrated from Pittsburgh to become a sensation locally in Chicago with his trio ‘The 3 Sounds’. John Levy managed them into national fame, again under one name…The Ahmed Jamal Trio.
I have no idea how John Levy became aware of the Norman Simmons Trio? Daddy-O Daily, maybe? Daddy-O Daily was always one of my main promoters. However, when Dakota Staton (Aliah Rabiah Dawud), who was signed to the John Levy Artist stable came to Chicago with the intention of hiring a Chicago pianist; Norman Simmons was recommended to her via her Muslim brother Ahmed Jamal. I was flattered to know that Ahmed Jamal knew who I was, because, at that time, I didn’t know who I was.

John Levy saw a potential in promoting The Norman Simmons Trio to a higher plateau via the coattail of Dakota Staton’s fame. But Dakota Staton’s husband had other ideas more related to his own personal ambitions that were linked to Dakota’s fame.

Dakota Staton’s husband, also a converted Muslim had ambitions that made it necessary for John Levy to personally protect me, I was only a piano player in her group and why did he John Levy take such a selected personal interest in me? John saw the aggressive ambitions of Dakota’s husband and made the determination that I particularly would not be victimized.

It was John Levy who hired me (Twice) to play for Joe Williams. I failed the first test. On the second trial…..Joe looked at me on stage and said “You’ve improved”. Paul West was the musical director at that engagement. Ellis Larkins and taken a steady job in NYC. Joe had a variable stable of accompanists all over the country and John convinced him to get a regular accompanist who would travel with him. Joe still could not actually bring himself to directly hire me, as recommended. He told me that John Levy would send me his itinerary and That I should choose what I wanted to do.

Joe never claimed his band on stage; he always identified us as individual instrumental celebrities  who visited with him in their spare times. Joe did not want to assume the full responsibility of anyone’s livelihood.

Norman Simmons was not destined for the fame of Ramsey Lewis, Ahmed Jamal or Dakota Staton. Nevertheless, the same connection with John Levy to Norman Simmons sustains and remains strong unto this day when we are both looking at the sunset. I cannot or find no need to explain it; but, knowing John Levy has been an inspiration that can no way be calculated. It is still very encouraging for me to look in the mirror and try to imagine myself as John Levy sees me. I am still, now just a well seasoned piano accompanist, but, always in the eyes of others, Wow! Certainly a level of success attached to Mr. John Levy.

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