Veteran music PR exec and jazz music expert Peter J. Levinson died Oct. 21 of head injuries due to a fall at his Malibu home. He was 74.
For nearly two years, he had suffered from ALS, (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and was unable to speak. However, with the aid of his talking computer, he was able to carry on business as usual until the day he died.
In addition to repping musicians and actors from Count Basie to Mel Torme to Joel Grey, Levinson was also a noted biographer. His books included “Trumpet Blues — The Life of Harry James,” “September in the Rain: The Life of Nelson Riddle” and the Tommy Dorsey biography, “Livin’ in a Great Big Way.” He had recently completed his fifth book, a study of the life and work of Fred Astaire, “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” which will be published in March.
Born in Atlantic City, N.J., Levinson graduated the U. of Virginia. He began writing about jazz artists for school and local publications and produced jazz concerts while at college, continuing while serving in the U.S. Army in Korea. In 1958, he began working in publicity for Columbia Records.
At Columbia, he worked on campaigns including the Grammy winning “Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings,” which helped bring attention to the resurgence of blues as an art form. He then became an agent for MCA, working with big bands like Harry James and Charlie Barnet. He also wrote for national magazines, publishing several stories on Frank Sinatra, and was in demand as a writer of liner notes.
Under his Peter Levinson Communications banner, he represented musicians and actors including Louis Bellson, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Byrd, Rosemary Clooney, Chick Corea, Phyllis Diller, Art Garfunkel, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Woody Herman, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Frank Langella, Peggy Lee, Jack Lemmon, Wynton Marsalis, Johnny Mathis, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Modern Jazz Quartet, Artie Shaw and George Shearing.
Prior to forming his own company, he worked with John Springer Associates, representing personalities including Barbara Walters, Roger Williams and Tony Randall and working on publicity for films such as “Z,” “Fiddler On the Roof” and the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns.
His television and film work included spearheading the launch of “Dallas,” and campaigns for “The Big Red One” and “Kramer vs. Kramer.”
Levinson also worked on events such as unveiling the Duke Ellington postage stamp, Woody Herman’s anniversary concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl and the 60th anniversary of Decca Records.
Levinson is survived by his wife, former “60 Minutes” producer Grace Diekhaus, and a brother.
Donations may be made to the U. of Virginia, c/o Cecelia Baber, Director of Gift Accounting, Office of Development and Public Affairs, U. of Virginia, P.O. Box 400807, Charlottesville, VA 22901-4807, in memory of Peter Levinson.
— Pat Saperstein