Barry Levitt: Beloved Maestro Takes Final Bow Smiling

1947 - 2017

 

Barry Levitt Photo Rula

 Beloved musical director Barry Levitt's sudden passing has left a poignant void in the lives he touched and with the numerous professionals he worked with over a four-decade career. That career spanned numerous high-profile and illustrious events including Broadway, off-Broadway, cabaret, big band stages and as an arranger, composer, pianist, producer, educator, and songwriter. He served as president of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs for several years. Barry was also Artistic Director of the respected Lyrics & Lyricists series at the 92nd Street Y for many years working with some of the finest musical talents and coordinating imaginative and informative programs. Through the years and no matter what genre or enterprise, he maintained a formidable level of pure excellence that gained him the respect and admiration of performers, peers and a plethora of adoring friends who loved this wise man with the great sense of humor – who never lost his cool. Barry was a gift.

Barry collapsed at the Laurie Beechman Theatre after a sound check with cabaret singer Dawn Derow who was about to debut her new show directed by Jeff Harnar. Barry was very happy and joking with all around him. He died at the hospital the next day after attempts to revive him failed. Dawn Derow, who is understandably devastated, commented: “... Barry Levitt, one of my greatest musical collaborators, will undeniably stay tethered to my heart, now and forevermore. As my “musical father,” he encouraged my work, refined my ways, stood in my corner, and smiled at me from the sidelines.”

Barry Levitt is survived by his cherished wife Brenda, his beloved daughter Dori, his grandson and a loving family. Their family home is in Greely, Pennsylvania.

Social media, mainly Facebook, exploded with loving and respectful messages from heartbroken friends and peers alike. Cabaret/concert star Ann Hampton Callaway (who is mourning the recent loss of her beloved mother) reflected on what so many are thinking: “Adding to the heaviness of my heart is today's news that my friend, the brilliant Barry Levitt, passed away from a massive heart attack. He was a gracious, charming, hip and swinging pianist, arranger, and musical director. We had lots of fun performing together at the Lyrics & Lyricist shows and other performances. His sensitivity to singers and his imagination in telling stories with fresh sounds was always a joy. RIP, dear Barry, you will be missed.” Jeff Harnar, who was present when Barry fell ill, echoed what many are thinking, “I find comfort knowing he made a perfect exit: doing his joyful best at what he loved to do surrounded by peers who loved and respected him.” Jim Caruso pointed out something we all knew“... mostly, he was kind.”

Barry became a prominent, in-demand figure on the cabaret scene in Manhattan where he worked tirelessly in all the clubs and was the musical director for legions of artists' over the years. 

Singer/director/teacher Lennie Watts, who is the president of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs commented on his former colleague, “ Barry Levitt was a superior musician, an advocate for singers, former MAC President, and friend. Barry was a teacher, a mentor, and a limitless source of musical knowledge. He will be greatly missed by so many of us who have had the pleasure of knowing and working with him. Rest In Peace, Maestro.”

Longtime close friend Karen Saunders wrote: “I lost a dear friend of 40 years. Barry was my musical director, my second husband ( that's what he always said), and so much more. He not only played for me while I was on the Cabaret circuit, but in the commercial world beyond NYC. He accompanied me in any size venues from Atlantic City onward. Barry Levitt was a big part of my life. He truly was one of the best. He could make his piano sound like you had a full orchestra behind you- or play sparsely when needed.”

The staggering list of celebrity artists' Barry worked with reads like a Who's Who of show business over the past 50 years. That list includes the likes of Ben Vereen, Judy Collins, Rosemary Clooney, Eartha Kitt, Nel Carter, Adrienne Lenox, Jane Powell, Robert Cuccioli, Tonya Pinkins, Melba Moore, Eddie Fisher, Connie Francis, Sergio Franchi, Dominic Chianese. Neil Sedaka, Edie Adams, Debbie Gravitte, Julius LaRosa, Allan Jones, Phylis Hyman, Jack Jones, The Four Aces, The Ink Spots, Tony Martin, Johnny Hartman, Sylvia Syms, Linda Hopkins, Margaret Whiting, Marilyn Michaels, Julie Wilson, Marlene ver Planck, Karen Mason, Vivian Reed, Pia Zadora, Marilyn Maye and his dear friend Carol Woods. Ms. Woods was deeply saddened at the loss of her close friend of many years and wrote a beautiful, emotional tribute to her close friend and collaborator on Facebook.

Barry really loved the singers and absorbed and committed himself to their projects. He had a natural ability to get into their world and instinctively understand what they were about and what they wanted to bring to a song. So many have referred to him as a mentor. The list is mind-boggling but among the many (jazz) vocalists Barry worked with include: Johnny Hartman, Jackie Paris, Ann Marie Moss, David Allyn, Marlene Ver Plank, Annette Sanders, Caril Payne, Judy Silvano, Ethel Ennis, Kat Gang, La Tanya Hall, Alexis Cole, Ty Stephens, Tom Postilio, Cleve Douglas and Hilary Kole. A good friend of the cabaret and azz communities, Barry worked with many great musicians including: Jon Burr, Dave Schnitter, Eddie Daniels, Rob Scheps, Bill Easley, Jerome Richardson, Spanky Davis, Burt Collins, Barry Rogers, Mike Lawrence, Tom Harrell, Cameron Brown, Chip Jackson, Billy Mintz, Alvester Garnett, Jerome Jennings, Victor Jones, Jeff Brillinger, Jimmy Madison, Milt Hinton, Bob Cranshaw, Conrad Herwig, Gary Smulian, Jerry Dodgion, Gerry Niewood, Jack Wilkins, Adam Nusbaum, Anthony Pinciotti, Brian Grice, Jay Leonhart and Tom Hubbard. 

The very long list of artists' Barry worked with in cabaret as arranger, pianist, conductor and all-around musical director is lengthy and much too long to list accurately at this time. All of them held a special place in his heart and he was proud to be associated with them all.

Some of his New York musical theater credits as music director and/or pianist/arranger/conductor include: “Little Shop of Horrors,”“Taking My Turn,” “Langston in Harlem,” “Dream Stuff,” “Oy, Mama, Am I in Love,” “Catskills on Broadway” and his special project that was dear to his heart, “Swinging On A Star” (Tony-nominated for Best Musical.) 

Barry Levitt at piano

 

Barry Levitt was also very proud to participate in and produce several MAC Awards' Shows, The Laurie Strauss

Leukemia Foundation Annual Concerts at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops, The Parkinson Disease

Foundation Annual Gala, The Kessler Institute Gala and The American Cancer Society benefit“Magic Garden”

(WPIX) as well as “Ethel Ennis: Live at The Persian Room,” “Evening At Pops with Ben Vereen,” “Captain and

Tenille Show,” “Tonight Show,” “Mike Douglas Show,” “Merv Griffin Show,” “Carol Burnett Show,” Drama Desk

Awards Show, Today Show, Good Morning America, Regis and Kathie Lee and PBS Great Performances.

Barry's television work included: “Patchwork Family”(WCBS), Emmy Award Winning Children's Series, etc.  

Barry's many recordings where he served as musical director, arranger, pianist, and conductor include: “Swinging On A Star” (Original Cast Recording,) “Taking My Turn” Original Cast Recording,) “Catskills On Broadway” (Original Cast Recording,) “Different Times”(Original Cast Recording,) “Sunset” (Original Cast Recording,) “A Mother’s Voice” with Marilyn Michaels, “Oh Diahne” with Diahne Grosjean, “ Just Singin’ My Song” with Sara Cole Page, “On Stage” with Sara Cole Page, “I’m Glad There Is You” with Sammy Goldstein, “Coming Through” with Connie Pachl, Julian Fleisher And His Rather Big Band, Bill Daugherty, Phyllis Pastore, Val Ryder (Bistro Award), John Demarco (MAC Award), Robert Cuccioli, Anthony Santelmo Jr., Barbara Porteus, Craig Pomranz, J. Mark McVey, Jacques Kayal, Daniel and Dimitri, Gary Crawford, Marcus Simeone (“At Last and “Everything Must Change”) and “Bosom Buddies' with Karen Saunders and Carol Woods.

Longtime Iridium manager/producer/performer Scott Barbarino who also served on the MAC Board of Directors and worked with Barry many times commented on Facebook:... I'm usually not at a loss for words ... the sudden passing of Barry Levitt I know has stunned many of us in the music world. To my friends who didn't know Barry ... he was absolutely a national treasure for all he brought to the entertainment/jazz/cabaret genre not to mention his contribution to helping to raise awareness and social consciousness at every opportunity. He was in one word a mensch.”

Esteemed pianist/arranger Billy Stritch commented on all the Facebook tributes to Barry... “I've been reading so many lovely messages and stories about our dear Barry Levitt. I was trying to remember but I'm pretty sure we met and became friends through the numerous Lyrics & Lyricists shows we were involved in going back to 1991. He did an amazing job with the music of these productions and later taking on the mantle of artistic director of the whole shebang. Barry was one of the most competent and good-natured guys I've ever met and it was always a pleasure to be in his company. He was smart, insightful, honest and tasteful (and really funny). He just GOT IT and everyone appreciated working with such a pro. Working as an accompanist and arranger and collaborator mainly in the field in cabaret and traditional pop/jazz - well, it's a pretty small fraternity of men and women that I'm proud and happy to be a part of. But, boy, we lost one of the best ones. You will be missed, my friend."Also on Barry's passing, renowned jazz bassist Tom Hubbard said: “Barry Levitt will be sorely missed by everyone who ever played with him. Years and years ago, Barry gave me my first break in New York City, when he was leading the band at Supper Club in the Edison hotel. He never lost his cool even in the most trying circumstances and never had a bad word to say about anyone. He was a consummate musician and it was always a pleasure to play with him. Thanks to Dawn Derow for her heroic efforts after Barry collapsed before her show Tuesday. He was smiling and happy right up to that moment. No matter how sad I feel I can take some consolation knowing that up to the end he was doing what he loved.”

There will be a celebration of his life TBA.