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Musician

Mel Lewis

Born:

Lewis, best known for his small group approach to big band drumming, was one of the first drummers to vary the ride cymbal beat, giving the music a loose and swinging feel. His commanding presence never dominated the spotlight and always stressed the interplay between the band members. "How much you stick in depends on how much you can hear," Lewis explained, "and if you're really hearing, you'll put in only what's necessary." Mel Lewis was born Melvin Sokoloff in Buffalo, New York to Russian immigrant parents. His father was a drummer in the Buffalo area who inspired his son to follow in his footsteps from an early age. Still in his mid-teens, young Lewis played with nationally known jazz musicians Harold Austin and Lenny Lewis. Early credits also include stints with Bernie Burns (1946), Boyd Raeburn (1948), Alvino Rey (1948-9), Ray Anthony (1949-50, 1953-54), and Tex Beneke (1950-53). In 1954 he joined Stan Kenton's band, playing alongside such musicians as Jimmy Giuffre, Maynard Ferguson, Laurindo Almeida, Vido Musso, and vocalist June Christy. During his three-year tenure with Kenton, Lewis also worked and recorded with the Frank Rosolino quintet and the Hampton Hawes Trio. In 1957, Lewis settled in Los Angeles where he led a quintet with another ex-Kenton sideman, saxophonist Bill Holman. He worked with the big bands of Gerald Wilson and Terry Gibbs, recording with the latter between 1959-62. The early 1960's saw Lewis in New York with the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band, in Europe with Dizzy Gillespie, and in Russia with Benny Goodman. Lewis moved to New York in 1963 and formed a big band with trumpeter Thad Jones two years later. The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra performed and recorded extensively, garnering rave reviews and awards. Their performance on the album “Live in Munich” earned them a Grammy Award in 1979. The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, played some of the most progressive big band charts since the swing era. The band had its own unique style, along the lines of big band swing, bebop, and hardbop. The sound was powerful, fast, intellectual, and fun. After twelve productive years, Jones left for Europe and Lewis assumed sole leadership of the band. With the departure of Jones, the Kansas City-born trombonist / pianist / arranger Bob Brookmeyer assisted in the musical direction of the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Lewis established a residency at the prestigious Village Vanguard in New York City which spanned over two decades. He performed there until one month prior to his death in 1990. Mel Lewis was the recipient of numerous awards, including fourteen Grammy nominations from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, with one win in '79. Lewis authored a drumming method book It's Time for the Big Band Drummer (Kendor Music Co., 1978) and taught workshops on jazz drumming at William Patterson State College in New Jersey.

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Article: Under the Radar

A Different Drummer, Part 4: The Zildjian Legacy

Read "A Different Drummer, Part 4: The Zildjian Legacy" reviewed by Karl Ackermann


They are the oldest family-owned business in the world, recognized globally by musicians from every genre. The Avedis Zildjian Company--known simply as Zildjian --traces its history to the ancient cymbals of the Middle East and Asia. Almost four hundred years ago, Avedis, an Armenian metalsmith and alchemist in seventeenth-century Istanbul, discovered an alloy of tin, copper, ...

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Video

Texture: The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra meets AmByth Estates Zinfandel

Featuring the music of The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra
Duration: 5:35

In the second tasting and listening adventure of the month, we explore texture in our ears and our palates through two great examples. Read Kristen's analysis of AmByth Estates Zinfandel (2014) and The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra here.

Musician

The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra

Active since:

The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra was a jazz big band formed by trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis in New York in 1965. The band performed for twelve years in its original incarnation, including a 1972 tour of the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. The band won a Grammy Award for the album Live in Munich and in 2009 for the album Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard. The collaboration ended in 1978 with Jones suddenly moving to Copenhagen, Denmark, after which the band became the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Since the death of Lewis in 1990 it has been known as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

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Article: Album Review

Steven Feifke Big Band: Kinetic

Read "Kinetic" reviewed by Angelo Leonardi


Assimilare la tradizione per poi creare cose originali. È questo il percorso che hanno seguito e continuano a seguire i musicisti jazz, in forme e approfondimenti diversi. A 30 anni esatti il pianista Steven Feifke è ancora al primo passo ma in questo scintillante debutto orchestrale dimostra di avere tutte le carte in regola per sviluppare ...

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Article: Radio

John Patitucci, Dick Oatts, Count Basie and More

Read "John Patitucci, Dick Oatts, Count Basie and More" reviewed by Joe Dimino


This week we focus on new releases and look for a unique perspective on this COVID-19 pandemic world. We hear from John Patitucci, Avram Fefer, Paul Jost and Marc Benham. This hour also features a host of legends and a special dedication to Chadwick Boseman. Playlist John Patitucci with John Beasley “Sam Rivers" MONK'estra ...

Article: Album Review

Manuel Valera New Cuban Express Big Band: José Martí En Nueva York

Read "José Martí  En Nueva York" reviewed by Angelo Leonardi


Chi segue i protagonisti contemporanei del cosiddetto latin jazz conosce bene Manuel Valera. Nel 1995 il pianista ha lasciato la natia Havana per trasferirsi negli Stati Uniti, prima a Miami e poi a New York dove ha studiato alla New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Dal 2004 s'è progressivamente imposto come una figura artistica di ...

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Article: SoCal Jazz

Steve Khan: A Rich Discography and A Priceless Left Hand

Read "Steve Khan: A Rich Discography and A Priceless Left Hand" reviewed by Jim Worsley


The life and times of guitarist extraordinaire Steve Khan stretch through a high volume of evolving chapters that fuse together like the passages of a finely crafted arrangement. An expansive conversation with Khan touched on a variety of memories. Still, this is perhaps the Reader's Digest version of the seventy-three years old musician and composer's remarkable ...

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Article: The Jazz Life

My Early Years with Bill Evans, Part 2

Read "My Early Years with Bill Evans, Part 2" reviewed by Chuck Israels


Bassist and composer Chuck Israels was raised in a musical family. He studied the cello and played guitar in junior high school. Later musical training took place at Indian Hill, a summer workshop in the arts directed by his parents, and at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. A year at Massachusetts ...

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Article: Interview

Meet Andy Bey

Read "Meet Andy Bey" reviewed by Chris M. Slawecki


From the 1995-2003 archive: This article first appeared at All About Jazz in February 2000. Listening for the first time to Andy Bey is like stepping into a quiet, still lake. Your foot first parts a surface that's smooth and tranquil, but you can't really tell from that surface how deeply your foot must ...


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