HOLLYWOOD—HELLO AMERICA! For me discussing music with those who have achieved a tremendous amount of music or anything associated with the arts, is quite a special moment. John Lewis is one of these guys who have spent years in the music business, not only performing with some of the greats, i.e., Billy Taylor and Miles Davis, but has contributed much as a composer, as well. Time spent with Lewis was well worth it.
Q. When did you first realize that music, especially jazz, was something very special to you?
A. “When I was a young boy, growing up in a small town, outside of Philadelphia, I use to buy a lot of records. You know, the ones that had to be played on a victrola. And it was a wonderful time listening to Duke Ellington, Hazel Scott, Lionel Hampton and Fats Waller —these guys were my heroes. The music they played filled every pore in my body —it made me feel like I wanted to paint pictures, create sounds that made me feel whole as a human being.”
Q. How important were the radio shows that featured jazz and, yes, other types of music, during that time?
A. “Very important! I couldn’t wait for the weekends when I could listen to some of the great big bands, like Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Les Brown…oh, there were so many great bands. I guess I was inspired by so many musicians who were either heard on radio or making appearances in a nearby city.”
Q. You tackled the drums first —why?
A. “Hey, I started with the drums when I was about 10 years old. I tried to imitate all the drummers I admired. Louis Belson, really impacted my life. My mom bought me a set of drums for Christmas , and that changed everything for me. Of course, drove the family and neighbors crazy, at times, but they never discouraged me. However, when I was older, I explored playing the piano, and I found that it came easy to me. And musicians like Art Tatum and Duke Ellington, seriously affected me, in a way that gave me some artistic balance —and it was good.”
Q. When you are composing a new work, what affects you the most in developing the musical concept or idea?
A. “It depends on so many things: the year, the day and even the moment. For me to actually feel that I have a need to create something, I have to be seriously affected by something. Maybe, it was something I read in the newspaper or saw on TV or even looking out of my window and watching what’s happening in the streets…oh, there are so many things that affect what and how I put the sounds together. However, no matter what I compose, it has to have a strong meaning about people and life, itself.”
Q. When are you most happiest?
A. “Oh, that’s an easy question! When up on a stage performing music with my buddies, playing sounds that expresses who I am, is the most gratifying time of my life. Without music, I really can’t be who I am. It’s like walking or moving through a thick fog, until I hear or making the sounds that made a difference.”