Arts & Entertainment

Jewish organized crime made jazz noteworthy – but left Black musicians flat

In his new book ‘Dangerous Rhythms,’ author TJ English exposes a dark underside of the music industry, showing how mob-adjacent Jews fought segregation while exploiting the talent.

“Jazz Provides Background for Death,” screamed the Associated Press headline following the January 26, 1959, murder of Irving Levy at Birdland in New York. Levy was the manager of the popular jazz venue, located near the burgeoning musical mecca of West 52nd Street. His brother, Mo Levy, owned the club.

The Levy brothers grew up in a struggling Jewish family. Eventually, they ran one of the hottest jazz clubs in the country, named after one of the genre’s biggest stars, Charlie “Bird” Parker.

On the fateful night, Birdland was filled to its 500-person capacity. Irving Levy confronted an uninvited guest — a man he claimed was a pimp escorting a prostitute. The man fatally stabbed Levy, who bled out as the Urbie Green Big Band continued playing. This is a seminal moment from a new book that explores a complicated historical relationship, “Dangerous Rhythms: Jazz and the Underworld,” by veteran crime writer T.J. English.



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