• E.M.G.

Django, John Lewis (1920-2001), a « Classical Bopper »

Listen to the Guitar version: https://youtu.be/edCSL57v_MU

Listen to the Piano version: https://youtu.be/OTzQvSKYO0Q


Pianist, Composer and Jazz Arranger, he was born the same year as Charlie Parker and grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. J. Lewis had not only Black but also Indian origins.


In 1924, after the death of his mother, his aunt (or grandparents ?) took him home and at the age of 7, he began playing Piano and studying Classical music. One of the first pianist who influenced him was Teddy Wilson, who accompanied the singer Billie Holyday.


In 1942, he entered the University of New Mexico where he took a bachelor’s degree in Music and Anthropology. At that time, the beginning of the 40’s, Jazz music went through its Be-bop period… and the U.S.A were entering the 2nd World War.


So J. Lewis joined the army where he met the drummer and Be-Bopper Kenny Clarke (first drummer of the Modern Jazz Quartet).


In spite of the war, that was also his first « stay » in France, a country he loved so much. He even bought a villa in Cannes and met Charles Delaunay, the founder of Jazz Hot magazine. Moreover, some of his pieces carry names of Paris’ locations (Vendôme, Concorde…).


After the war, he played with Lester Young (Saxophone player) and Duke Ellington (Composer, Conductor and Pianist) who showed him the benefits of improvisation. He settled down in New York City and joined the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra to replace Thelonious Monk on Piano. He wrote a Trumpet toccata for this Orchestra (1947, Carnegie Hall). He also played with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis (Birth of the Cool). At that time, a new style of Jazz named the Cool was emerging, based on a more linear approach.


But John Lewis is especially known for the Modern Jazz Quartet which he founded in 1952 with Connie Kay (who replaced Kenny Clarke on Drums), Milt Jackson (Vibraphone) and Percy Heath (who replaced Ray Brown on Double-Bass).


What is specific in his music is the use of Classical harmony and Baroque counterpoint processes (Fugue) in a Jazz context (or more exactly in a Be-bop or Cool context), the most illustrative example of it being the record 3rd Stream, in which the MJQ play with Classical musicians.

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