Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b John Aaron Lewis, 5 April '20, La Grange IL; d 29 March 2001) Pianist, composer, leader. He grew up in a middle-class family in Albuquerque NM; studied piano from age six; attended U of NM; met drummer Kenny Clarke in US Army '42-5; attended Manhattan School of Music (MA '53, joined Board of Trustees '66); played and arranged for the Dizzy Gillespie big band ('Two Bass Hit', 'Emanon', 'Minor Walk', 'Stay On It'); 'Toccata For Trumpet And Orchestra' for Gillespie at Carnegie Hall '47; with Miles Davis Birth of the Cool combo '49 ('Move', 'Budo', 'Rouge'). He was a founder member and mentor of the Modern Jazz Quartet (which see) from '52. His music is confident, uncluttered, elegant and swings; he also has a gift of simple yet eloquent melody. He wrote soundtrack music for the French film No Sun In Venice '57, recorded by MJQ; his 'Three Little Feelings' was commissioned for the Brandeis U Festival of the Arts '57, conducted by Gunther Schuller, now on CD Birth Of The Third Stream. He was music director of the Monterey Jazz Festival from '58; he did music for a Harry Belafonte TV special, for William Inge play Natural Affection '63, TV film Cities For People '75, much more as well as TV and festivals overseas. He played solo at the Newport Jazz Festival '75. He taught at Harvard, City College NYC, etc.
His first recordings as a leader made in Paris '50 have been reissued on French EMI's Jazz Time: 'Pierre' (aka 'Afternoon In Paris') and 'Period Suite' parts I and II. His albums were mostly out of print in the mid-'90s: trio set 2 Degrees East, 3 Degrees West '56 on Pacific Jazz (later on Pausa); European Windows '58 on RCA with Stuttgart Symphony Orchestra; Odds Against Tomorrow '59 on UA (score for Belafonte film); on Atlantic: small group sets included the particularly lovely quartet album The John Lewis Piano '56 with Percy Heath and Connie Kay from the MJQ and guitarist Barry Galbraith: it is too little known. Afternoon In Paris '56 has Sacha Distel (guitar; b 29 Jan. '33, Paris; later a pop singer); Improvised Meditations And Excursions '59 with Heath and Kay, The Wonderful World Of Jazz '60, European Encounter '62 with Svend Asmussen; with larger groups: The Golden Striker '60 with Joe Wilder, Schuller, others (title track theme from film One Never Knows), Jazz Abstractions/John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music '60 ('Abstraction' composed and conducted by Schuller, with Ornette Coleman, etc), Original Sin '61 (score for San Francisco Ballet), A Milanese Story '62, Essence '62 with the Gary McFarland band. He discovered and helped European artists such as Albert Mangelsdorff (quartet LP on Atlantic made in Baden-Baden '62). Other LPs: with singer Helen Merrill '76; John Lewis Solo/Duo with Hank Jones '76 on Trio, An Evening With Two Grand Pianos '79 on Little David in NYC and Piano Play House '79 on Toshiba in Tokyo with Jones; solo tracks on two-disc Columbia compilations I Remember Bebop, They All Played Bebop '77; solo Piano, Paris 1979, 'I'll Remember April' on Palo Alto LP A Tribute (to Bill Evans) '82; quartet Mirjana '78 made in France; trio The John Lewis Album with Putte Wickman And Red Mitchell '81 (clarinet and bass) from Stockholm radio and sextet Kansas City Breaks '82 (with Joe Kennedy, violin), both on Finesse; quartet Slavic Smile '82 with Bobby Hutcherson on RCA; quintet versions of J. S. Bach Preludes And Fugues '84 on Japanese Philips made in NYC; also The Chess Game '87 on Philips with Mirjana Lewis on harpsichord, based on Bach's Goldberg Variations.