Personalities | John Lewis | Fifties | Jazz & Blues

(Piano, 1920–2001)

John Lewis was an important pianist, composer and educator, but was best known as the musical director of the most successful jazz group of the era, the Modern Jazz Quartet. Over five decades, Lewis was the architect of the group’s characteristic fusion of jazz and classical music. The MJQ’s light, spacious, swinging arrangements established them as an international concert draw, while Lewis’s compositions amounted to a substantial canon.

His work away from the group was also significant. He worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis (on the ‘Birth Of The Cool’ sessions) in the late 1940s and co-founded the jazz-classical fusion movement known as ‘third stream’ with Gunther Schuller in the late 1950s. He was musical director of the Monterey Jazz Festival from 1958–82, and was leader and director of two ensembles: Orchestra USA (1962–65) and the American Jazz Orchestra (1985–92). Lewis’s acclaimed solo album, Evolution II (2001), was issued shortly before his death.

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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