Life and work
Lewis began at the age of fifteen to work professionally and performed with the big bands of Boyd Raeburn, Alvino Rey, Ray Anthony, Tex Beneke. From 1954 to 1957 he was a member of the ensemble of Stan Kenton. In 1957 he moved to Los Angeles where he recorded first studio recordings and worked with the big bands of Terry Gibbs and Gerald Wilson, pianist Hampton Hawes and trombonist Frank Rosolino and Bill Holman led his own combo.
In 1960 he went to New York and played in the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band. With Dizzy Gillespie in 1961, he undertook a tour of Europe with Benny Goodman in 1962 and a tour of the Soviet Union. In 1965 he founded with the Thad Jones Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra, which he after Jones 1978 unexpectedly moved to Denmark, until his death. The orchestra was an institution in the U.S. jazz scene and performed with musicians like trumpeters Bill Berry, Danny Stiles, Richard Williams, Marvin trunk, Snooky Young and Jon Faddis, trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Knepper, Quentin Jackson and Benny Powell, the Saxophinisten Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion, Eddie Daniels, Joe Farrell, Pepper Adams and Billy Harper, pianist Hank Jones, and Roland Hanna and bassist Richard Davis and George Mraz on; one of the arrangers was Jorge Anders. As Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is committed 2005 to be forty years of existence.
The orchestra gave regular basis since its inception, the Monday Night gigs at the Village Vanguard, under the name Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra this tradition under Lewis' leadership has continued. In Europe he worked from 1986 with the Joe Haider Orchestra in 1988 received the album as best big band recording of the year the German Record Prize. Lewis came in December 1989 for the last time at the Village Vanguard with the Mel Lewis Orchestra. In early 1990, he traveled to a meeting of the International Association for Jazz Education to New Orleans and performing with his band. It was his last appearance on February 2, he succumbed to cancer.
- Clem DeRosa, Mel Lewis: It's Time: For the big band drummer. Kendor Music, Delevan ( N.Y ) 1978.