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Musician

Mel Lewis

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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: Radio & Podcasts

Stratusphunk: From the Airliner Lounge to Outer Space

Read "Stratusphunk: From the Airliner Lounge to Outer Space" reviewed by David Brown


This week, birthday tributes to Abby Lincoln and Byard Lancaster, solo piano works from Lucian Ban, Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou and Dr. Billy Taylor, Ellington arranges Monk, early works from George Russell and a swingin' Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Quartet live at the Airliner Lounge, and more! Playlist Thelonious Monk “Esistrophy (Theme)" from Live at the It ...

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Article: Take Five With...

Take Five With Renée Manning

Read "Take Five With Renée Manning" reviewed by AAJ Staff


Meet Renée Manning Widely celebrated vocalist/composer, Renée Manning, has been educating students ages 2 to 100 years for the past 35 years. During her 10 years as instructor and Vocal Chair at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, she has been awarded several grants including Met Life grants for her choral work with Prospect Hill Senior Center, ...

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Article: Rising Stars

Wells Fargo Jazz For Teens

Read "Wells Fargo Jazz For Teens" reviewed by Sanford Josephson


This article first appeared in Jersey Jazz Magazine Clay Hudson grew up in a family “surrounded by music, and it rubbed off on me." Henry Spencer remembers that in the second grade at St. Luke's School in the West Village, “every student took drum lessons. I was the only one who stuck with it." ...

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Article: Album Review

Pepper Adams and the Tommy Banks Trio: Live at Room at the Top

Read "Live at Room at the Top" reviewed by Pierre Giroux


In a foreword by Jim Merod to Gary Carner's biography of Pepper Adams “Reflectory: The Life and Music of Pepper Adams," he describes Adams as follows: “Pepper was essentially alone in his magnificent command of his big horn's imposing challenges. He set a standard for its lyric power and boisterous allure." In ...

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Article: Interview

Bill Goodwin: Not Less Than Everything

Read "Bill Goodwin: Not Less Than Everything" reviewed by Victor L. Schermer


Bill Goodwin is like a breath of fresh air blowing through jazz. From the time around 1954 when he was in jny: Los Angeles and just learning the drums, and inspired by Shelly Manne, to today, around his 80th birthday, he has loved jazz and the musicians unconditionally. He has befriended and worked with so many ...

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Article: Book Review

The Lady Swings: Memoirs of a Jazz Drummer

Read "The Lady Swings: Memoirs of a Jazz Drummer" reviewed by David A. Orthmann


The Lady Swings: Memoirs of a Jazz Drummer Dottie Dodgion and Wayne Enstice 264 Pages ISBN: #9780252085512 University of Illinois Press2021 Dottie Dodgion isn't reluctant to share the trials and tribulations endured throughout a long life. Dodgion was raped by her stepfather at age ten, afflicted with early ...

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Article: Interview

Kenny Garrett: The Value of Ancestors

Read "Kenny Garrett: The Value of Ancestors" reviewed by R.J. DeLuke


Saxophonist Kenny Garrett has always respected the music of his predecessors. He knows its importance. He knows the value of the tradition, knowledge and innovation passed on to new generations of musicians. He's recorded, for example, dedications to John Coltrane (Pursuance, Warner Bros., 1996), as well as Joe Henderson and Sonny Rollins (Trilogy, Warner ...

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Article: Take Five With...

Take Five with Gordon Goodwin

Read "Take Five with Gordon Goodwin" reviewed by AAJ Staff


Meet Gordon Goodwin Having amassed 21 Grammy nominations, four Grammy wins and three Emmy wins, Gordon Goodwin is one of the most decorated big band leaders in the 21st century. As the leader of Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, an internationally renowned ensemble with a reputation as one of the most exciting in jazz, ...

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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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