Drummers / Percussionists
Drummer Cafe 20th Anniversary
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BIOGRAPHY

Mel Lewis

Mel Lewis, born Melvin Sokoloff on May 10, 1929 in Buffalo, New York, was an American drummer, jazz musician and bandleader, best known for his work with Thad Jones and his tenure at the Village Vanguard in New York City. Throughout his career Lewis worked with the likes of Stanton Kenton, Ray Anthony, Boyd Raeburn, Art Pepper, Gerry Mulligan, Ben Webster, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Eddie Daniels, Ron Carter, Stanley Turrentine, Zoot Sims, Freddie Hubbard, Michael Brecker, Chet Baker, Joe Lovano, Kenny Garrett, Rufus Reid, Herbie Hancock, Jon Faddis, Jay McShann and numerous others.

Mel Lewis began playing the drums at an early age, working as a professional by the time he was a teenager. He eventually joined Stan Kenton Orchestra in 1954 which led him to move to Los Angeles in 1957 and later to New York City in 1963.

While living in New York City, Mel was participating in numerous informal jam sessions with the top studio and jazz musicians of the city. This is what led him to team up with Thad Jones, in 1966, to co-lead the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. The band eventually began performing regularly on Monday nights at the hallowed venue, the Village Vanguard.

In 1978 the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra won a Grammy for their album, Live in Munich, recorded in 1976.

Thad Jones moved to Denmark in 1978, which is why the band later became known as Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra. Lewis continued to lead the band, recording and performing every Monday night at the Village Vanguard until shortly before his death from cancer, at age 60, on February 2, 1990.

During his lifetime, Mel garnered fourteen Grammy nominations, was a professor at William Paterson University, and authored a drum method book entitled "It's Time for the Big Band Drummer".


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