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MUSICIAN Born:

Mel Lewis

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.

ARTICLE: RADIO

John Lewis @ 100 and More May Birthdays

Read "John Lewis @ 100 and More May Birthdays" reviewed by Marc Cohn

May birthdays this week on G&M! Some big ones (of course): the John Lewis centennial, Dave McKenna @ 90, Arthur Blythe and Carlos Ward @ 80. It's also Stevie Wonder's 70th this month, and May celebrant salutes are in the house (Theo Hill, Ronnie Foster, Mel Lewis, and Groove Holmes) doing 'Wonderful' tunes. We also celebrate ...

ARTICLE: INTERVIEW

John Swana: Philly Gumbo

Read "John Swana: Philly Gumbo" reviewed by Victor L. Schermer

From the 1995-2003 archive: This article first appeared at All About Jazz in June 2000. In addition to being one of the finest contemporary jazz trumpet players, John Swana is a human being who is spontaneously authentic and refuses to play a false role. Having reached the ripe old age of 38, John has ...

ARTICLE: ALBUM REVIEW

Ezra Weiss Big Band: We Limit Not The Truth of God

Read "We Limit Not The Truth of God" reviewed by Angelo Leonardi

Compositore e insegnante alla Portland State University, Ezra Weiss è professionalmente molto attivo in ambito locale. Per il suo debutto discografico ha riunito un'orchestra di 17 elementi per presentare il suo progetto in forma di suite e una coda col celebre “Footprints" di Wayne Shorter. Dei dieci brani originali quattro presentano lunghe narrazioni, esposte ...

ARTICLE: INTERVIEW

Bruce Jones: Growing Up With Jazz

Read "Bruce Jones: Growing Up With Jazz" reviewed by La-Faithia White

The impact of living in a musical household, witnessing your dad and your uncles jamming in the basement can definitely create a positive and meaningful outlook for a young kid. Stories of growing up jazz come to mind for Bruce Jones, the eldest son of trumpeter, composer, and band leader Thad Jones. Bruce is also the ...

ARTICLE: SOCAL JAZZ

Darek Oleszkiewicz: Rolls-Royce Groovin'

Read "Darek Oleszkiewicz: Rolls-Royce Groovin'" reviewed by Jim Worsley

Inspiring greatness has long been the two-word association with the grand luxury of Rolls-Royce. Britain's entry into automobile finery has thus become benchmark terminology. To hear bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz interact, navigate, and improvise with today's finest jazz musicians is to understand why he has been deemed the Rolls-Royce of the modern day upright. Carrying the torch ...

ARTICLE: CATCHING UP WITH

Michael Weiss: Soul Journey

Read "Michael Weiss: Soul Journey" reviewed by Luke Seabright

Bebop is a complex craft, and like all crafts the only way to get any good at it is by learning from those who mastered it before you. Jamming through the night, getting on to that bandstand and firing away your best improvised lines, jousting with your partners (be they friends or strangers) like in the ...

ARTICLE: SOCAL JAZZ

Bob Sheppard: The Clark Kent of Jazz

Read "Bob Sheppard: The Clark Kent of Jazz" reviewed by Jim Worsley

An unassuming bespectacled man in his mid-sixties walks on to the stage. In a band with stellar, famous, and maybe flashier musicians, one could be forgiven if they didn't even notice him right away. But as soon as Bob Sheppard presses a saxophone, clarinet, or flute onto his lips, he is super, man! An incredible musician ...

ARTICLE: INTERVIEW

Rick Lawn: The Evolution of Big Band Sounds in America

Read "Rick Lawn: The Evolution of Big Band Sounds in America" reviewed by Victor L. Schermer

From the latter part of the Jazz Age through the Swing Era, big bands dominated the jazz scene and a large part of the entertainment industry. After World War II, their fortunes declined, but their music soared to new heights, spurred on by innovative leaders, instrumentalists, and very importantly, the composers/arrangers who worked behind the scenes ...

ARTICLE: ALBUM REVIEW

Terraza Big Band: One Day Wonder

Read "One Day Wonder" reviewed by Angelo Leonardi

Dopo tre anni di esibizioni mensili al club Terraza 7 nel Queens (NY), quest'orchestra di 18 elementi debutta con un CD di nove composizioni originali arrangiate dal sassofonista Michael Thomas. Questi è il co-leader della band assieme al contrabbassista Edward Perez, che è anche autore di molti brani. Conosciutisi a Boston quand'erano studenti di musica, i ...


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