Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. iv-iv

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Foreword: Uncle Mel

John Mosca

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pp. v-ix

Uncle Mel. It was a perfectly apt moniker that came into general use in the band for a while after a Carnegie Hall concert around 1976. The reviewer after heaping praise on the band and Thad’s arrangements, turned lukewarm when describing the drummer as “the avuncular Mel Lewis sitting back there hooking rugs.” One of us looked it up. Mel...

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Preface

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pp. x-xii

Mel Lewis’s extensive recorded career of over 630 recordings serves as evidence that he is among the most important jazz drummers of all-time.1 His unique style of jazz drumming has been highly regarded by fans and critics for almost sixty years, but more importantly, Mel was highly respected by his contemporaries in the jazz community. Trombonist and...

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1. Born a Drummer

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pp. 1-11

Mel Lewis loved to sit in his living room at 325 West End Avenue #2C and listen to music. He sat in that room and listened for hundreds of hours, usually in the company of a young musician who intently absorbed his entertaining stories of the music business, life on the road, and the wide range of musicians he had worked with. When relaxing in his favorite lounge chair it was typically...

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2. Mel Meets New York City

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pp. 12-27

In January of 1948, after years of talking about relocating, Lenny Lewis finally moved his band and young drummer to New York City. When the Lewis Band arrived, the height of the big band era had passed and even after successful engagements at the Savoy Ballroom and Apollo Theater, Lewis found it much more difficult to find gigs than he had...

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3. Brookmeyer and Kenton’s Initial Offer

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pp. 28-37

In 1951, Mel once again persuaded Beneke to hire another one of his friends, this time on piano. Bob Brookmeyer, a young pianist and valve trombonist from Kansas City, joined Mel and Buddy Clark in the rhythm section. Mel recalled his first meeting with Brookmeyer and how he eventually got him on the Beneke Band...

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4. Kenton Presents Mel Lewis

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pp. 38-46

In September of 1954, twenty-five-year-old Mel Lewis flew to Los Angeles and joined the reorganized Stan Kenton Orchestra. After four days of rehearsal the Kenton Orchestra set out on the second installment of their nationwide tour named The Festival of Modern American Jazz. The tour began in San Diego on September 16 and Mel quickly adapted his musical concepts into...

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5. Contemporary Concepts and Thad Jones

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pp. 47-57

July of 1955 was one of the most important months in Mel’s career. The Kenton Orchestra had hit their stride, and jazz critics began to notice Mel’s drumming and the orchestra’s lighter swinging style. Jazz journalist Nat Hentoff heard the band during their famous July engagement at Birdland in New York City and...

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6. Life in Los Angeles

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pp. 58-65

Mel’s career after Kenton provided him the opportunity to develop a wider network in Los Angeles and accept more studio work. In 1957, the Los Angeles jazz and studio scenes were very active, providing a wide variety of work for most musicians. During the winter and spring, he performed or recorded with Lennie Niehaus, Dave Pell, Bill...

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7. Terry Gibbs and “The Tailor”

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pp. 66-74

Mel first met vibraphonist Terry Gibbs in 1948 while both men were living in New York City. Gibbs remembered his initial encounters with Mel:

Mel was with Tex Beneke, and he used to try to find me all the time because he loved Tiny Kahn’s drumming. He knew that I grew up with Tiny, and had all of these things I could tell him about Tiny. So he...

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8. Webster and Mulligan

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pp. 75-84

Mel’s suddenly high profile work with Terry Gibbs introduced his playing to an increasing number of network contractors in Los Angeles. As a result, he joined the staff of ABC Studios Hollywood.1 His 1959 studio work included playing on the Eddie Fischer Show, performing live dates with Frank Sinatra (subbing for Irv Cottler), and performing on numerous radio and television...

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9. Mel’s New Cymbal and Europe with Dizzy

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pp. 85-90

Just as the Concert Jazz Band began to gain popularity, it received two major setbacks.1 By the end of 1960, Mulligan began to devote more time to take care of his girlfriend Judy Holliday who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Also in January of 1961, only a month after their successful second run at the Village Vanguard, Granz sold Verve Records to MGM for two and a half...

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10. The Soviet Union and a Move East

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pp. 91-105

In April of 1962, Mel accepted an exciting offer from Benny Goodman’s management to join an extensive tour of the Soviet Union for the U.S. State Department. At that time, the Cold War was growing increasingly tense; the previous ten months had seen both the construction of the Berlin Wall by the East German regime and the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs. It would...

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11. Back in the Big Apple

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pp. 106-112

In April of 1963, Mel finally made the decision to move himself and his family back to New York City. This ended up being one of the best decisions he ever made, beginning the most artistically satisfying period of his career.
Arriving in New York City in May of 1963, Mel gigged on the jazz circuit almost immediately:

I started working and playing with everybody, and playing...

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12. Thad and Mel Get Their Opening

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pp. 113-117

Throughout 1964, Thad and Mel performed together on a regular basis in their small group with Pepper Adams. However, the most high profile work that Thad and Mel shared was with the Mulligan Concert Jazz Band. Earlier in the year trumpeter Clark Terry had left the Concert Jazz Band, accepting a contract to work for NBC Studios in Los Angeles. Famously, Terry’s contract...

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13. Opening Night at the Village Vanguard

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pp. 118-129

In November of 1965, Thad and Mel quickly put together a list of the musicians they wanted for their band. While Thad had certain friends at CBS whom he wanted to hire, and Mel had musicians he wanted, they easily agreed on the personnel. Thad remembered the process of forming the group, saying, “We agreed on...

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14. The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and Solid State

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pp. 130-143

After the initial success of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, several record companies quickly approached Thad and Mel about recording the band. Creed Taylor, who was working for Verve at the time, had set up a meeting with Thad and Mel in February of 1966. Both men had previously had their personal and professional disagreements with Taylor, and neither of them was...

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15. Thad and Mel Hit the Road, and the Road Hits Back

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pp. 144-157

1968 marked the first time that the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra took extended tours of the United States and Japan. The tour of the United States began on April 20 with a performance at the second annual Bay Area Jazz Festival in Berkeley, California. Joe Williams was the guest vocalist with the band, which included several new members, including Danny Moore and...

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16. The Youth Movement

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pp. 158-173

By most accounts, the four-year relationship between Thad, Mel, and Solid State producer Sonny Lester was always a good one. Lester had the reputation of often being overbearing as a producer; yet with Thad and Mel, he seemed to give unprecedented freedom in the studio. Mel recalled Lester’s hands-off approach saying, “Manny Albam had more to say at our dates. Sonny...

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17. Ten Years at the Village Vanguard / The Road Family

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pp. 174-191

In 1975, Thad and Mel wasted no time getting the band back on the road. On January 19, they began a two-and-a-half-month tour across the United States, one of the longest domestic tours that they ever put together. During the tour the band performed at an astounding number of colleges and universities. The increase of jazz in higher education continued to be seen...

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18. Thad Leaves for Denmark

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pp. 192-201

In the fall of 1978, only weeks after their bus tour of the United States, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra set out on a three-month tour of Europe. The tour and the weeks that followed were a defining moment in Mel’s career. As previously stated, there had been many personnel changes in the band following their spring tour across the United States. Many of...

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19. Mel Lewis and The Jazz Orchestra

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pp. 202-211

Only three months after Thad departed for Europe, Mel Lewis and The Jazz Orchestra recorded their debut album. Naturally (Telarc) was recorded on March 20 and 21 in Englewood, New Jersey, and was a much-needed step in the continuation of the band. Mel believed that the purpose of releasing an album was “To promote the band. To let people know we exist, to get people...

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20. The Musical Mentor

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pp. 212-225

In January of 1982, Mel recorded a small group album under the leadership of Brookmeyer titled Bob Brookmeyer: Through a Looking Glass (Finesse). The recording consisted of a small group of players from the big band; in addition to Mel and Brookmeyer, it included Tom Harrell on trumpet, Dick Oatts on soprano saxophone, Jim McNeely on piano, and Marc Johnson on bass. The...

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21. Twenty Years at the Vanguard / A New Fight

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pp. 226-239

After a two-year absence, Mel Lewis and The Jazz Orchestra recorded a new album in May of 1985. Unfortunately, Atlantic Records would not release the album until later the next year, making fans wait four years for the band’s follow-up release to Make Me Smile. When the album was finally released in 1986, it was titled...

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22. Hello and Goodbye

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pp. 240-255

In February of 1988, Mel Lewis and The Jazz Orchestra played their annual weeklong engagement at the Village Vanguard, this time celebrating their twenty-second birthday. The band used the week at the Vanguard, February 11–15, to record three new albums for the Musicmasters label. Throughout the five nights, the band recorded nine new arrangements...

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23. Memories of Mel

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pp. 256-273

Mel Lewis devoted his life to developing a unique style of drumming in hopes of making a lasting contribution to jazz music. In a 1967 DownBeat interview he stated,

I hope that I’ve really fallen into something new and valid in terms of big band drumming. I hope that I’m doing something that will make a real contribution. That’s what a musician really strives for—not to be taken for granted as just a good player, but...

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Afterword: Mel Lewis’s Example

John Riley

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pp. 274-274

Mel Lewis was a very strong, passionate, and opinionated man but he selflessly chose making other musicians comfortable his prime mission. At this Mel had great success.
I have been listening to Mel’s playing since I first became aware of him and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra in 1971. Like many young players, I was drawn to the more flamboyant players of the day and didn’t...

Transcriptions and Listening Guides

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pp. 275-330

Mel Lewis Equipment Timeline

Paul Wells, Chris Smith

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pp. 331-334

Selected Discography

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pp. 335-358

Notes

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pp. 359-379

Bibliography

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pp. 380-389

Index

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pp. 390-399