Wednesday, May 9, 2018

SMART LAWYERS - SAD STORY - HAPPY ENDING

I have led a charmed life, evidenced by the following story.
Back in 2000 on a visit to New York, my good friend James Sherwin, then manager of the Hotel Carlyle and knowing of my keen interest in music, musicians and record producers, offered to introduce me to a notable New York audio specialist, Mark Levinson.

I had read about Mark in a Stereophile magazine article written by respected audio writer Barry Willis. Mark is an audio industry phenomenon, and a talented musician who in his teens and 20s played with jazz greats Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Stan Getz and Lee Konitz.

He developed an interest in producing truly high-end audio equipment, and his first foray into this scene was to build the sound mixer used at the 1968 Woodstock Music Festival, when he was just 21.

He founded Mark Levinson Audio Systems (MLAS) in 1972, going on to produce some of the most incredibly high definition playback equipment, amplifiers and speakers, plus developing high quality multi-track recording equipment and quickly developed a respected reputation for some of the world’s best audio systems.

I met him at his store and private studio on Madison Avenue (between 76thand 77thAvenues), and was surprised that the name on the storefront was Red Rose Music.

Mark welcomed me with enormous enthusiasm once he found out my background as a disc jockey, jazz lover, and also my newfound friendship with legendary record producer, Tommy Lipuma.

That night he introduced me to the fantastic audio quality of the then famous SONY Super Audio CD (SACD), and I was truly amazed at the incredibly wide dynamic range of the recorded sound.

I was even more surprised when he told me that it had been recorded right there in his private studio, not some high tech soundstage.

The quality of the audio was dazzling, and makes me wish that SACD had been a commercial success for Sony.

He also told me that he had recently married TV star Kim Cattrall, who starred in ‘Sex & The City', and that between them they had authored a very controversial sex manual, called ‘Satisfaction – The Art of Female Orgasm’.

I was so impressed with the audio quality of Mark’s products, I suggested to my colleagues at Bentley Motors back in Crewe, UK, that we should investigate the possibility of Mark Levinson designing and engineering audio systems for our new Bentley Continental.

I tried, unsuccessfully, for months attempting to get the Bentley and VW audio specialists to agree to a trial development, but unfortunately Mark’s ideas were rejected on the basis of NIH (Not Invented Here).

Given the excellence of the products which carried his name and were already world-famous, the NIH response is a sad indictment on supposedly quality-conscious executives.


In the meantime, Mark had suggested that Bentley could do some promotional activities with Kim Cattrall, so he suggested we have lunch together.

She was a real joy to meet and discuss promo ideas with. She is warm, friendly, no-nonsense and a very smart lady. We quickly agreed that whilst my Bentley PR budget could not afford a big retainer and huge fees, we could provide her with a Bentley each weekend for her and Mark to drive out to her ‘weekender’ in the Hamptons.

So began a two-year period where we enjoyed enormous cachet from her being seen in a Bentley every weekend in the playground of New York’s richest and most influential people.

Even after the promo agreement ended, she agreed to ‘star’ (right) at our New York launch party for the Continental GT coupe in 2003.

But, back to Mark Levinson and the background to his Red Rose Music company. Why the change?

To avoid any legal complications, I will quote from the publicly-available source – Wikipedia.
In 1980, an investor acquired control of the company, allegedly without paying Levinson, and allegedly put MLAS through a planned bankruptcy to eliminate Levinson’s 43% interest in the company. Mark Levinson Audio Systems, Ltd. ceased to exist in 1984, with Madrigal Audio Labs acquiring its assets.  Madrigal Audio Labs took Levinson to court and asked the United States government to forbid him from working in audio for the rest of his life. In August 1986, Levinson won the case but lost the right to use his given name as a trade name (such as is put on a product). 
Since 1990, the Mark Levinson brand and trade name have been property of Harman International Industries.

Mark Levinson audio system in 2012 Lexus GS350

Lexus signed an agreement with Madrigal Audio Labs to fit Mark Levinson-branded audio equipment to its cars in 2001 – however, apart from the first system, the design and quality of the later audio systems have nothing to do with the originator, Mark Levinson.

I have huge respect for Mark Levinson. He is a genuine, honest, down-to-earth creative genius and certainly does not deserve being stripped of the commercial value of his name by an investor with a bunch of smart lawyers. Okay, his own lawyers didn’t do such a good job of protecting his rights, but that’s life.

He now runs a company called Daniel Hertz, in Neuchatel, Switzerland and still enjoys respect from his peers, the music world and many, many satisfied customers around the world.

So, how come Mark’s new company is called Daniel Hertz? Mark explains:

"I wanted a family name. Daniel is my father’s name. Hertz is my mother’s family name. Heinrich Hertz, the physicist who first demonstrated the electromagnetic wave, was my great uncle. That was the beginning of audio."

I love a happy ending.

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