Oscar Levant was born in 1906. As an accomplished pianist, composer, and comedian he created several highly regarded, serious works such as string quartets and piano concertos that received widespread acclaim.
He was a beloved performer on both radio and TV, regularly making guest appearances on NBC Radio’s Kraft Music Hall hosted by Al Jolson as well as being invited as a guest on Jack Paar Shows.
Early Life and Education
Oscar Levant was an accomplished pianist, composer, and engaging personality who appeared on radio and television shows such as Information Please and the Jack Paar Show. Additionally, Oscar performed brilliantly onstage in 13 movies such as Humoresque and The Barkleys of Broadway.
He arrived in New York in 1922, studying piano with Zygmunt Stojowski – one of Paderewski’s students – as well as with Joseph Schillinger (an esteemed composer and theorist who taught many of the big band orchestra leaders of his era).
Gershwin’s death in 1937 relieved Levant of any remaining inhibitions about performing his music publicly, and Levant went on to embark on a touring career that made him an increasingly prominent presence across theaters throughout America – as well as becoming a frequent guest on syndicated talk shows.
Oscar Levant was an accomplished pianist, songwriter and raconteur. During his long career he performed concerts, hosted radio and television programs and composed film scores.
He performed as a soloist with orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Rochester, Los Angeles and Montreal orchestras, while in Hollywood he employed his talents to compose film music – for a period of time serving as “Music Expert” on Information Please radio show.
As part of Ben Bernie Orchestra in the 1920s and appearance in several silent films, he soon made a name for himself; upon hearing that sound had come into movies in 1928 he moved to Hollywood where his music became increasingly in demand and scored 21 movies as well as popular tunes such as “Blame It on My Youth”.
Achievement and Honors
Pianist, composer and intellectual who became known for his comedic performances on The Jack Paar Show and other TV fare. Additionally he was known as an exceptional ivory tickler performing music by George Gershwin.
Though he had little appreciation of jazz music itself, he was an enthusiastic proponent of concert hall works that used its percussive syncopations and bluesy vocabulary in concert hall works. His recordings of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F stand among the finest versions of those iconic works.
From 1958 to 1960, he hosted a syndicated television chat program on which he performed monologues and piano music, while regularly appearing on NBC radio’s Kraft Music Hall with Al Jolson. Throughout this period he married twice: first Barbara Wooddell and later June Gale before succumbing to pneumonia on August 14, 1972 in Beverly Hills, California.
Levant made his mark across an almost century-long career as a piano virtuoso, radio/TV personality, movie character actor (Wisecracking Movie Star! ), Broadway stage performer/composer and recording artist who later became George Gershwin’s protege – one of America’s highest paid concert artists.
Levant’s swift wit allowed him access to the elite worlds of New York and Hollywood society. He became friends with Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and the Gershwin family and made regular appearances at their social events.
He achieved great success as a popular songwriter, penning such hits as ‘Keep Sweeping Cobwebs Off the Moon’ and the standards ‘Blame It on My Youth’ and ‘Lady Play Your Mandolin’. Additionally, he performed on Broadway stages as well as 13 movies such as Humoresque, Barkleys of Broadway and An American in Paris.
Oscar Levant was an accomplished performer who achieved success in classical piano and music performance, writing, acting and hosting talk shows. Known for his characteristically mordant character and comedic remarks both on television and media platforms.
Once he settled in New York in 1922 following the death of his father, he began studying piano with esteemed pianist pedagogue Zygmunt Stojowski and quickly become close with composer George Gershwin.
Levant’s dry sense of humor was popular at Lindy’s and other popular city nightclubs. He composed music for over 20 films and wrote several popular pop songs including 1934’s Blame It on My Youth; unfortunately he died suddenly from heart attack complications at age 67 in 1972.