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D'Vonne Lewis: It's About the Love

Paul Rauch By

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On the Seattle jazz scene, no musician is more visible than drummer D’Vonne Lewis. Whether he is touring and playing with his band Industrial Revelation , leading his flexible and innovative combo, D'Vonne Lewis Limited Edition, or playing as a sideman on multiple projects around town, Lewis brings to the bandstand a remarkable versatility, and musical identity all his own. He began playing with top shelf players such as Hadley Caliman, and Larry Fuller when still a student at Seattle's storied Roosevelt High School, where under the direction of Scott Brown, he developed a style that while steeped in the jazz tradition, is positively and uniquely his. The grandson of legendary B-3 organist, Dave Lewis, the renowned "Godfather of Seattle Rock and Roll," D'Vonne represents the fourth generation of Lewis musicians on the scene in Seattle. His 3 year old son, Donovan, represents the fifth, and yes, the young man can play! Lewis developed a relationship with Wynton Marsalis at the Essentially Ellington Jazz Festival, by winning the Outstanding Drum Soloist award three years running in 2000, 2001, and 2002, leading to engagements with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, pianist Marian McPartland, and guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. Other performance credits include Eddie Daniels, and out-sax titan, Charles Gayle. Lewis carries with him the ability to create sounds applicable to any style, and make it his own. His musical persona reflects a radiant positivity, that is infectious and real. I sat down for tea and conversation with D'Vonne in Seattle's Belltown after a live studio session at KNKX 88.5 radio.

All About Jazz: You are a third generation Seattle musician, the grandson of the great Dave Lewis. When did the drums become a part of your life?

D'Vonne Lewis: Well first, I'm fourth generation. Big Pop, we called him Big Pop, was Dave Lewis. He gave lessons, Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix would come by the house to take lessons with him. Then there was my grandfather Dave Lewis, who was the organist.

AAJ: And nobody called him Dave Jr., they call your Dad Dave Jr.

DL: Right, and then there's me and now Donovan.

AAJ: Your son Donovan is the fifth generation of Lewis musicians in Seattle.

DL: Yeah, so Big Pop is the one that really got it started, gave my grandfather lessons. His Mom actually played organ in churches, she was a first call organist, all the churches wanted her to play. He started playing piano and then he heard his mom, and would give him lessons, and he would switch over to organ later. As far as me playing drums, as far back as I can remember, two or three years old, just beating on pots and pans, toys, I never even knew my family was musical. My mom and my dad were never together, every once in awhile I would visit the family, but nobody talked about the musical heritage or anything. So I started out with percussion just beating around, making little toy drum sets, with hangers for cymbals, and finally playing drums. It wasn't until my grandfather's funeral, in the eighth grade, in '98, that I really found out about my family and music reading the obituary. My Dad used to tell me that my grandfather was an old, cold cat, around town, and did everything, but I didn't know the true story.

AAJ: So his impact on your musical identity really happened after he had passed.

DL: Yes

AAJ: What was your relationship like with him?

DL: I went over there on weekends, I remember between third and sixth grades, I was playing Little League baseball, and he would come to all my games, taking me out to breakfast, but he never talked about music, not even his wife at the time. I was just like, "Hey, my grandfather is cool!" He had a little keyboard, but he never played.

AAJ: Dave Lewis was a musical icon, regarded as the father of the "Seattle Sound, " and the godfather of rock and roll in the northwest. Did you have an awareness of his sociological impact on the desegregation of music in Seattle?

DL: No, none of that. Maybe they just didn't think about it, and they never talked about it. These were things I learned later, after I was already playing. Yeah, it's crazy!

AAJ: You were Resident Artist this year at the Earshot Jazz Festival, and played a show at your alma mater, Roosevelt High School, one of the top school jazz programs in the country. Talk about the impact of that program on your musical life.

DL: All the things about (band director) Scott Brown, I just saw that he was a hard worker, and was always dedicated. I used to think, "Does he have his own life?" He was always rehearsing this jazz band, that was awesome, and after school, or after a festival we had just won, or a week long engagement somewhere, he would then be getting the marching band ready. Mainly that, the work ethic, watching him work, and how he knew the different kinds of music. The things he taught us, that he taught me, just the little things like, be professional, make sure your tux is clean, that you show up on time. You got a certain kind of discipline from him that a lot of musicians don't get. When there was a discussion going on in the room, he made sure you were listening, I like that part of it, everyone who comes up in that program, has that kind of education. It was almost like a college level education. That is a big part of my playing, even today, just the attitude, and discipline.

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