Jazz Orchestra
Biography & Discography
Thad Jones
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Thad Jones (Thaddeus Joseph Jones)

Thad Jones - b. Mar. 28, 1923, Pontiac, MI, d. Aug. 20, 1986, Copenhagen, Denmark

A harmonically advanced trumpeter/cornetist with a distinctive sound and a talented arranger/composer, Thad Jones (the younger brother of Hank and older brother of Elvin) had a very productive career. Self-taught on trumpet, he started playing professionally when he was 16 with Hank Jones and Sonny Stitt.

After serving in the military (1943-46), Jones worked in territory bands in the Midwest. During 1950-53, he performed regularly with Billy Mitchell's quintet in Detroit and he made a few recordings with Charles Mingus (1954-55). Jones became well-known during his long period (1954-63) with Count Basie's Orchestra, taking a "Pop Goes the Weasel" chorus on "April in Paris" and sharing solo duties with Joe Newman.

While with Basie, Jones had the opportunity to write some arrangements and he became a busy free-lancer writer after 1963.  He joined the staff of CBS, co-led a quintet with Pepper Adams and near the end of 1965 organized a big band with drummer Mel Lewis that, from February 1966 on, played Monday nights at the Village Vanguard. During the next decade, the orchestra (although always a part-time affair) became famous and gave Jones an outlet for his writing.

He composed one standard ("A Child Is Born") along with many fine pieces including "Fingers, Little Pixie and Tiptoe." Among the sidemen in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (which he started out as an all-star group and later on featured younger players) were trumpeters Bill Berry, Danny Stiles, Richard Williams, Marvin Stamm, Snooky Young,  and Jon Faddis; trombonists Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Knepper, Quentin Jackson and Benny Powell; the reeds of Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion, Eddie Daniels, Joe Farrell, Pepper Adams and Billy Harper; pianists Hank Jones, and Roland Hanna; and bassists Richard Davis and George Mraz. In 1978 Jones surprised Lewis by suddenly leaving the band and moving to Denmark, an action he never explained.

He wrote for a radio orchestra and led his own group called Eclipse. In late 1984, Jones took over the leadership of the Count Basie Orchestra but within a year bad health forced him to retire. Thad Jones recorded as a leader for Debut (1954-55),  Blue Note, Period, United Artists, Roulette, Milestone, Solid State, Artists House, A&M and Metronome, and many of the  Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra's best recordings have been reissued on a five-CD Mosaic box set.
-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Mel Lewis (Melvin Sokoloff)

Mel Lewis - b.
May 10, 1929, Buffalo, NY, d. Feb. 2, 1990, New York, NY

Although he was generally reluctant to solo, Mel Lewis was considered one of the definitive big-band drummers, a musician who was best at driving an orchestra but could also play quite well with smaller units. He started playing professionally when he was 15 and worked with the big bands of Boyd Raeburn (1948), Alvino Rey, Ray Anthony and Tex Beneke.

Lewis gained a great deal of recognition in the jazz world for his work with Stan Kenton (1954-57), making the large ensemble swing hard. In 1957 he settled in Los Angeles, became a studio drummer and worked with the big bands of Terry Gibbs and Gerald Wilson. Lewis went to New York to play with Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band in 1960 and he toured Europe with Dizzy Gillespie (1961) and the Soviet Union with Benny Goodman (1962). In 1965 Lewis formed an orchestra in New York with Thad Jones that grew to be one of the top big bands in jazz.

When Jones surprised everyone by suddenly fleeing to Europe in 1979, Lewis became the orchestra's sole leader, playing regularly each Monday night at the Village Vanguard with the band up until his death. Mel Lewis recorded as a leader in the 1950s for San Francisco Jazz Records, Mode (reissued on V.S.O.P.) and Andex and, after Thad Jones left their orchestra, Mel Lewis recorded with this big band for Atlantic, Telarc and Music Masters.
-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Jazz Labels

Discography Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra

Bob Brookmeyer
Bob Brookmeyer
The Complete Solid State Recordings of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra / May 4, 1966 - May 25, 1970 / Mosaic
-The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band was one of the finest jazz orchestras of the late '60s but it is Solid State LPs had been long out-of-print for decades before Mosaic wisely reissued all of the music (plus seven previously unissued performances) on this deluxe but limited-edition, five-CD set. With Jones' colorful and distinctive arrangements, such soloists as trumpeters Danny Stiles, Marvin Stamm and Richard Williams; trombonists Bob Brookmeyer and Jimmy Knepper; the reeds of Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion, Joe Farrell, Billy Harper, Eddie Daniels and Pepper Adams; and pianists Hank Jones and Roland Hanna; plus a rhythm section driven by bassist Richard Davis and drummer Mel Lewis, this was a classic band. Highlights among the 42 performances include "Mean What You Say,""Don't Git Sassy, "Tiptoe, "Fingers, "Central Park North" and the original version of "A Child Is Born," but nearly every selection is memorable.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Presenting Thad Jones: Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra / May 11, 1966 / Solid State

-The debut recording of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, which has been reissued on CD as part of Mosaic's large Thad Jones box, launched a mighty (if part-time) all-star big band. With arrangements by Jones, Bob Brookmeyer and Tom McIntosh and such soloists as baritonist Pepper Adams, pianist Hank Jones, valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, Jerome Richardson on various reeds, altoist Jerry Dodgion, and Joe Farrell and Eddie Daniels on tenors (in addition to fluegelhornist Jones), it is not surprising that the orchestra was soon rated near the top. Among the seven selections are four Thad Jones originals (including "Mean What You Say"), "Willow Weep for Me," and Brookmeyer's lengthy "ABC Blues."

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Joe Williams And the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra / Sep. 30, 1966 / BlueNote
-This CD reissues one of Joe Williams' finest recordings, Accompanied by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, the singer is heard at the peak of his powers.

The big band primarily functions as an ensemble (Snooky Young gets off some good blasts on "Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Morning", but the inventive Thad Jones arrangements insure that his illustrious sidemen have plenty to play. Many of the selections (half of which have been in the singer's repertoire ever since) are given definitive treatment of his set (particularly a humorous "Evil Man Blues,""Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You?" and "Smack Dab in the Middle") and Williams scats at his best on "It Don't Mean a Thing." Get this one.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Live at the Village Vanguard / Jun. 1, 1967 / Solid State

-The second recording by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra is the equal of the first. Most memorable are "Little Pixie," Fats Waller's "Willow Tree" and particularly the spirited "Don't Git Sassy." With arrangements by Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer and Garnett Brown and an all-star cast that includes trumpeters Snooky Young, Marvin Stamm and Richard Williams; valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer; the reeds of Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion, Joe Farrell, Eddie Daniels and Pepper Adams, among others, this was one of the great big bands. Fortunately, the exciting music on this out-of-print LP has been reissued on CD as part of a very complete Mosaic box set.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Monday Night / Oct. 17, 1968 / Solid State

-The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra was one of the most significant big bands of the late '60s, a most unpromising era for larger jazz orchestras. This live session from the band's regular Monday night gig at the Village Vanguard has strong solos from altoist Jerry Dodgion, Eddie Daniels and Seldon Powell  on tenors, trombonists Jimmy Knepper and trumpeter Richard Williams, in addition to Thad Jones himself. Most impressive is Bob Brookmeyer's adventurous arrangement of "St. Louis Blues." The contents of this out-of-print LP have been included in the Mosaic box set "The Complete Solid State Thad Jones/Mel Lewis."

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Basle, 1969 / 1969 / TOB

-This live concert, broadcast over Swiss radio and released for the first time on this 1995 CD, features the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra at its prime. The remarkable all-star group includes two first trumpeters (Snooky Young and Al Porcino) and such soloists as trumpeters Richard Williams, Danny Moore and Thad Jones; trombonist Jimmy Knepper, Jerome Richardson on soprano, Jerry Dodgion on flute and alto; and tenor great Joe Henderson, whose short stint with the band was long enough to include this European tour. Highlights of the superior set include "Second Race,''The Waltz You Sang For Me,""Don't get Sassy" and "Groove Merchant." Highly recommended to fans of the band, this Swiss CD can be found with a bit of a search.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Central Park North / Jun. 17, 1969 - Jun. 18, 1969 / Solid State

-This out-of-print LP (whose music has been reissued in a definitive Mosaic box set) has several classic arrangements, particularly Thad Jones' "Central Park North," the swinging "Big Dipper" and the catchy "Groove Merchant." Soloists include Jerome Richardson on soprano, flute and alto; trumpeters Jimmy Nottingham, Richard Williams, Danny Moore and Jones; pianist Roland Hanna; and tenors Joe Farrell and Eddie Daniels. It's a fine example of the exciting music of one of the top big bands of the late '60s.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Consummation / Jan. 20, 1970 - May 25, 1970 / BlueNote
-Of the many albums recorded by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, this was the greatest. Reissued on CD as part of a large Mosaic box set, this set intro- duced Jones' best-known composition, "A Child Is Born," also has a colorful rendition of his sly "Tiptoe," and finds the big band ripping the roof off during the lengthy and very exciting "Fingers." The all-star cast (which includes fluegelhornist Jones, drummer Lewis, trumpeter Marvin Stamm, trombonist Jimmy Knepper, and Benny Powell, tenor great Billy Harper, the reeds of Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion and Eddie Daniels, keyboardist Roland Hanna, and bassist Richard Davis, among others) is well served by Thad Jones' inventive and swinging arrangements. A classic.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Suite for Pops / Jan. 25, 1972 - Sep. 1, 1972 / Horizon

-Despite the sincerity involved, this tribute to Louis Armstrong really does not come off. Thad Jones, in his compositions and arrangements never quotes or borrows (either directly or abstractly) from Louis Armstrong's music, making this homage little more than namedropping. None of the seven originals or perfor- mances are by themselves memorable, despite the all-star nature of the band. There are many much more worthy recordings by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra than this later effort.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Potpourri / Jun. 1974 / Philadelphia International

-One of the weaker Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big-band sets, this LP finds the impressive orchestra stuck performing a couple of inappropriate Stevie Wonder tunes ("Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" and "Living for the City") and the pop song "For the Love of Money," in addition to more suitable material by Marian McPartland ("Ambiance") and four worthwhile originals by Jones. With such notable sidemen as trumpeter Cicil Bridgewater, Ron Bridgewater and Billy Harper on tenors; trombonist Quentin Jackson; baritonist Pepper Adams; keyboardist Roland Hanna; bassist George Mraz; and lead trumpeter Jon Faddis, the music certainly has its moments of interest. But there are a quite few more satisfying recordings by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra than this merely decent LP.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

New Life: Dedicated to Max Gordon / Dec. 16, 1975 - Dec. 17, 1975 / A&M

This LP has extensive packaging (thanks to producer John Snyder) and decent but not overly memorable music. The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra's best recordings were for Solid State and Blue Note, although they still boasted an impressive all-star personnel during the mid-1970s. The seven selections (five arranged and composed by Jones and one apiece by Jerry Dodgion and Cecil Bridgewater) do not include any future standards. There are fine solos from the likes of fluegelhornist Jones, Greg Herbert and Frank Foster on tenor, Roland Hanna and Walter Norris on piano, trumpeters Cecil Bridgewater and Waymon Reed, baritonist Pepper Adams, and others, so the music is not without its interesting moments. But in general, the solos and arrangements are more memorable than the melodies. This LP has not yet been reissued on CD.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Live in Munich / Sep. 9, 1976 / A&M / Horizon

-The last major release by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra before Jones moved to Europe was their strongest in several years. The orchestra was in state of transition, evolving from an all-star band filled with veterans to a group filled with advanced and hungry young improvisers. Most memorable of the five selections are "Mornin' Reverend," Jones's fluegelhorn showcase on "Come Sunday," and a definitive 16-minute version of his "Central Park North." Heard on this LP (not yet reissued on CD) are such soloists as pianist Harold Danko, Gregory Herbert on tenor, and Jerry Dodgion on soprano, but it is the sound of the ensemble and the colorful Jones arrangements that make this album well worth searching for.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Thad Jones with Mel Lewis, Manuel Desica and the Jazz Orchestra / Dec. 1976 / Pausa

-This is an unusual recording, for it features the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra performing Manuel De Sica's five-part "First Jazz Suite." The distinctive sound of the ensemble is intact; baritonist Pepper Adams has a notable solo; Dee Dee Bridgewater takes a vocal, and the band was still an all-star orchestra at the time. But overall, this obscure set (not yet reissued on CD), which is rounded off by a later live-in-Italy version of Thad Jones "Little Pixie," is a lesser effort, worthwhile but not essential.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra

Jimmy McNeely
Jim McNeely
Naturally / Mar. 20, 1979 - Mar. 21, 1979 / Telarc
-This was the first recording by the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, made just for a short time after co-leader Thad Jones surprised everyone by suddenly quitting and moving to Europe. Although Jones was gone, the band was still performing 
his arrangements, and all six of the charts on the set were Thad's; plus, he was the composer of five of the tunes.  With soloists as pianist Jim McNeely, altoist Dick Oatts, trumpeter John Marshall and the tenors of Bob Rockwell and Richard Perry (along with plenty of tight ensembles), it was clear that the orchestra would live on. Worth searching for.
-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Live at Village Vanguard / Apr. 1980 / Gryphon

-A 1991 reissue of prime sessions, with Lewis at the helm of his longtime big band. High-octane solos and energetic compositions.

(Ron Wynn)

Live in Montreux / Jul. 16, 1980 / Pausa

-The 1980 version of the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra performs five Herbie Hancock tunes arranged by Bob Mintzer, quite an assignment for the young tenor saxophonist, who was not even a member of the big band. Mintzer's reworkings of such tunes as "Dolphin Dance" and "Speak like a Child" are fresh and unpre- dictable. Such soloists are featured as pianist Jim McNeely, altoist Dick Oatts, future tenor great Jo Lovano (heard on "Eye of the Hurricane"), and trumpeter Earl Gardner; also in the band at the time (but not featured) is altoist Steve Coleman. It is a pity that this music (originally put out on the European MPS label and made available domestically by the now-defunct Pausa label) is difficult to find.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

Mel Lewis Plays Herbie Hancack / Jul. 16, 1980 / Pausa

Live at Montreux. A first-rate big-band date.

(Ron Wynn)

Mellifuous / Mar. 31, 1981 / Landmark

Mel Lewis & the Jazz Orchestra / Jan. 7, 1982 - Jan. 11, 1982 / Finesse

-Recorded live at the Village Vanguard, the Mel Lewis big band (which at the time was in the process of finding its own sound) performs arrangements by Bob Brookmeyer. While letting the band swing and leaving space for such soloists as fluegelhornist Tom Harrell, altoist Dick Oatts, Jo Lovano's tenor, pianist Jim McNeely and altoist Kenny Garrett, Brookmeyer (who sits in on valve trombone during "Good-bye World") nevertheless constructs difficult charts that are more than a little inspired by modern classical music; this version of "My Funny Valentine" is quite eerie.
Somehow the Mel Lewis Orchestra sounds on this rather complex music and the overall results are rewarding.
-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

The Definitive Thad Jones, Vol. 1 / Feb. 11, 1988 - Feb. 15, 1988 / Music Masters

-Although Thad Jones (who passed away in 1986) had left the big band that he co-led with drummer Mel Lewis back in 1979, some of his charts remained in the orchestra's book. On the first of two CDs taken from an engagement at the Village Vanguard (a third CD, "Soft Lights and Hot Music," is also from these dates), Lewis leads his men through five Jones arrangements, including "Quietude,""Three in One" (which is 13 minutes long) and the 15-minute stomper "Little Pixie." The soloists include baritonist Gary Smulyan, both Jo Lovano and Ralph Lalama on tenors, altoist Ted Nash and Dick Oatts, trumpeter Glenn Drewes and pianist Kenny Werner. Recommended as a particularly strong example of the Mel Lewis Orchestra.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

The Definitive Thad Jones, Vol. 2 / Feb. 11, 1988 - Feb. 15, 1988 / Music Masters

Soft Lights and Hot Music / Feb. 11, 1988 - Feb. 15, 1988 / Music Masters

Recorded at the same sessions that resulted in two other CDs (both of which features Thad Jones arrangements), this CD has charts by five different musicians, yet the sound of Mel Lewis' Jazz Orchestra stayed consistent.

Most unusual is that all but two numbers on this release (originals by Kenny Werner and band pianist Jim McNeely) are standards. Altoist Ted Nash ("Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "It Could Happen to You") has two features; pianist Kenny Werner ("The Touch of Your Lips"), trombonist John Mosca ("How Long Has This Been Going On") and altoist Dick Oatts ("Little Man, You've Had a Busy Day") are also showcased; and there are spots for the tenor of Ralph Lalama, trumpeter Glenn Drews and the up-and-coming tenor Joe Lovano. This fine effort is at the usual high level of the inventive orchestra.

-Scott YanowAll-Music Guide

The Lost Art / Apr. 11, 1989 - Apr. 12, 1989 / Music Masters

To You: A Tribute to Mel Lewis / Sep. 10, 1990 - Sept. 12, 1990 / Music Masters

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