The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra
Thad Jones played trumpet and cornet. His older brother was Hank Jones, a jazz pianist, and his younger brother was Elvin Jones, a jazz drummer. Thad Jones had worked as a professional since he was 16, when he played with Hank. After leaving the military in 1946, he performed with territory bands and later with Charles Mingus. From 1954–1963, he was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra, for whom he composed and arranged.
Mel Lewis, a jazz drummer, had been playing in big bands since he was 15, first with Boyd Raeburn, then Alvino Rey, Stan Kenton, Terry Gibbs, and Gerald Wilson. In 1961, he toured the Soviet Union with veteran big band leader Benny Goodman. After Lewis moved to New York City, he met Thad Jones and started the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra at the end of 1965. Beginning in February 1966, the band played every Monday night at the Village Vanguard. Since Lewis's death in 1990, the band has been called the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, continuing its tradition as the Village Vanguard's house band.
The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra was arguably the most influential big band since the swing era. Lewis brought a loose, small group style of drumming into the structure of a big band. His cymbal work became a hallmark of the Jones/Lewis Orchestra. Jones's arrangements influenced later, large-ensemble composers, such as Maria Schneider, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely, and Bob Mintzer. The Jones/Lewis Orchestra was an unusual band, creating new styles, succeeding in an era when big bands were unpopular and remaining integrated during racially tense periods.
The band's members included Bill Berry, Billy Harper, Bob Brookmeyer, Danny Stiles, Eddie Daniels, George Mraz, Hank Jones, Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion, Jimmy Knepper, Joe Farrell, Jon Faddis, Marvin Stamm, Pepper Adams, Quentin Jackson, Richard Davis, Richard Williams, Roland Hanna, and Snooky Young.