Album:The Definitive Thad Jones: Live From The Village Vanguard
Most jazz fans should be familiar with The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. They were one of the top big bands of the 60s and 70s. But you may not know that Lewis had a long career as a sideman before he got together with Jones. And after Jones moved to Europe in 1978, Lewis continued to lead the band and played every Monday night at The Village Vanguard in New York. Lewis was born Melvin Sokoloff May 10, 1929 in Buffalo, NY. He began to play drums professionally at age 15 in bands led by Boyd Raeburn, Alvino Rey, Ray Anthony and Tex Beneke. In the 50s, Lewis had a three year run with Stan Kenton. Then he moved to Los Angeles in 1957 to be a session musician. He also played in big bands led by Terry Gibbs and Gerald Wilson. Lewis moved back to New York and toured with Gerry Mulligan, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. He also recorded with Sonny Stitt, Gary McFarland and James Moody. The band with Thad Jones started with informal jam sessions at The Village Vanguard. But then they got a record deal with Solid State Records in 1966 and The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra continued until Jones moved to Denmark for good in 1979. Lewis continued to lead the band every Monday night at the Village Vanguard. After Jones died in 1986, Lewis signed with Music Masters Jazz and decided to record a tribute to Jones at The Village Vanguard. The recordings were released as 2 single LPs. But Nimbus Records released them as a 2CD package in 2007. Like all the songs on the CD. Little Pixie was written by Jones and first recorded in 1966. Musicians are Glenn Drewes, Earl Gardner, Joe Mosello and Jim Powell on trumpet, Ralph Lalama and Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Ted Nash and Dick Oatts on alto sax, Gary Smulyan on baritone sax, Earl McIntyre, John Mosca and Douglas Purviance on trombone, Stephanie Fauber on french horn, Kenny Werner on piano and Dennis Irwin on bass. This band continued until Lewis died on Feb. 2, 1990 at age 60. And as a tribute, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra still plays The Village Vanguard every Monday night. Mel Lewis may not have been flashy like Buddy Rich. But he sure knew how to drive a big band. Here's The Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra performing Little Pixie in Jerusalem 1979. This is from the V.I.E.W. Video DVD Mel Lewis and his Big Band.