Pianist Composer John Lewis Dead of Prostate Cancer


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New York, USA - 30 March 2001 (PRN): John Lewis, the pianist and composer, died on March 29 at home in Manhattan. He was 80. The cause was prostate cancer.

Mr. Lewis was the pianist, musical director and guiding light of the Modern Jazz Quartet, the most successful small group in jazz, during its 45-year existence. He also was acknowledged as one of the few serious jazz composers of his era. He was described by Leonard Feather in the famous Encyclopedia of Jazz as “one of the most brilliant minds ever applied to Jazz." By wedding the blues that underlay much of 20th-century jazz music with his knowledge of form in European music, he helped jazz music to mature and to expand its ambitions.

Mr. Lewis' career spanned from World War II until his well-received last live performance, given at Lincoln Center in New York in January of this year.

Mr. Lewis composed and arranged music for the groups with which he performed, including the Dizzy Gillespie big band, the Miles Davis groups, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Orchestra U.S.A., as well as for film, television, dance, theater and symphony orchestra. His short composition, Django, was designated by a 1999 National Public Radio poll as one of the preceding 100 years' most popular tunes.

Mr. Lewis recorded many classic piano performances with such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet and, more often in more recent years, as a solo pianist.

Mr. Lewis was born in LaGrange, Illinois and brought up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After studying biological anthropology at the University of New Mexico, he served in the Army in World War II. He served in an Army Special Services musical unit after taking part in the invasion of Normandy. He received bachelor's and master's degrees in composition from The Manhattan School of Music and five honorary doctorate degrees.

He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Mirjana Lewis; his sister, Marylyn Gore; two children, Alexander and Nina; and three grandchildren, Samuel, Anna and Mia.

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