BMHOF Class of 2005
Mel Lewis was born Melvin Sokoloff in Buffalo, 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 Austion and Lenny Lewis. Early credits also include stints with Bernie Burns, Boyd Raeburn, Alvino Rey, Ray Anthony, and Tex Beneke. 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, he also worked with the Frank Rosolino quintet and the Hampton Hawes Trio. In 1957, Lewis settled in Los Angeles where he led a quintet with 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 recorded extensively, garnering rave reviews and awards. Their performance on the album in Live in Munich earned them a Grammy Award in 1979. After twelve productive years, Jones left for Europe and Lewis in New York which spanned over two decades. He performed there until one month prior to his death in Vanguard as "The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra." Lewis, best known for his small group approach to big band swinging feel. His commanding presence never dominated the spotlight and always stressed the interplay between the band member. "How much you stick in depends on how much you can hear," Lewis explained during a 1989 radio broadcast on the history of jazz drumming," and if you're really hearing, you'll put in only what's necessary." Mel Lewis was the recipient of numerous awards, including fourteen Grammy nominations. he authored a drumming method book "It's Time for the Big Band Drummer" and taught workshops on jazz drumming at William Patterson State College in New Jersey.
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