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Obituaries

Floyd Levin, 84; influential jazz journalist and historian

February 05, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

For 40 years, from 1947 to 1987, Floyd Levin owned a downtown Los Angeles textile manufacturing company that made tablecloths, aprons, toaster and barbecue covers, and other housewares.

But Levin also had an abiding passion for jazz, and for nearly two decades longer than the four he spent at Parvin Manufacturing Co. he had a second career as a jazz journalist and historian.

He was on a first-name basis with musical greats such as Louis Armstrong, in whose honor Levin led a fundraising campaign to erect a statue of the legendary jazz trumpeter in his hometown of New Orleans.

Levin died Jan. 29 of a heart attack at his home in Studio City, said his grandson, Marc Levin. He was 84.

Beginning with his first published article in 1949 -- on trombonist Edward "Kid" Ory in Melody Maker -- and continuing up to his death, Levin wrote hundreds of reviews and profiles that appeared in such publications as Jazz Journal, Metronome and Down Beat.

The author of "Classic Jazz: A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians," a 2000 book published by the University of California Press, Levin also conducted scores of oral interviews with jazz musicians that he donated to the Smithsonian Institution and to the jazz archive at Tulane University in New Orleans.

"Although he was very good friends with Louis Armstrong and he wrote about other giants like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, he was always interested in the underdog, the guy who very few other people knew about but who played a very significant role in music," said Dan Del Fiorentino, historian for the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, Calif.

In 1949, Levin co-founded the Southern California Hot Jazz Society, the second oldest jazz appreciation club in the United States.

Levin's visit to New Orleans in the late 1960s led to his efforts to honor Armstrong with a statue. "He was on a tour bus and there was no mention of Louis Armstrong or his contribution to the city," Marc Levin said. "He, at that moment, decided that was an injustice to Louis Armstrong and started a fundraising campaign on that bus."

As a major fundraiser for the statue in 1970, Levin produced a 70th birthday party for Armstrong at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Emceed by songwriter-musician Hoagy Carmichael, the onstage birthday bash before a near-capacity crowd of 6,000 included Armstrong's reminiscences as a slide show chronicled his life and an array of traditionalist musicians played the music that represented the various phases of his career.

The memorable musical evening also featured songs by Sarah Vaughan and other artists, a six-tiered, 800-pound, 11-foot-tall birthday cake and several songs sung by Armstrong himself, who led the crowd in a sing-along rendition of "Hello, Dolly!" as midnight approached and July 3 turned into the Fourth of July, his birthday.

"I've had a lot of wonderful honors in my life," Armstrong said when it was over, "but tonight has been the biggest thrill of all."

Then, in what then-Times critic Leonard Feather wrote "was a rare display of offstage emotion," Armstrong kissed Levin on the cheek.

Armstrong died in 1971, but Levin continued to raise funds for the statue. Among the donors was Bing Crosby, who provided an urgently needed $10,000 for the statue's completion in time to be unveiled, on a flatbed truck, in New Orleans during national television coverage of the nation's bicentennial celebration on July 4, 1976.

In 1980, the 11-foot-tall bronze statue of "Satchmo" holding his trademark trumpet and handkerchief was dedicated at Louis Armstrong Park.

Born in Minneapolis on Sept. 24, 1922, Levin moved to California with his family when he was 2.

He attended UCLA for two years before working at Douglas Aircraft during World War II and then going into business with his father, Sam.

By then he had developed his lifelong interest in jazz, which later included producing numerous jazz albums.

Marc Levin said his grandfather made arrangements to donate the majority of his jazz collection to the Smithsonian.

The extensive collection, he said, includes thousands of recordings, photos and news articles, numerous instruments from jazz-musician friends, and one of Levin's most prized possessions: "Louis Armstrong's mouthpiece that was a gift to him many years ago."

In addition to his grandson, Levin is survived by his wife of 65 years, Lucille; his son, Dennis; and a great-granddaughter.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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