Music is a way of life for Mark Lewis. As an instrumentalist, composer, producer, engineer, and teacher, he has earned the reputation of being one of the most dynamic and innovative forces in music today.
Mark was exposed to music at an early age. On one side, his grandmother, Elaine Lewis, was a concert pianist while on the other, his grandfather, Ray Street, played saxophone. As a child Mark played on his grandfather''s C melody sax, and at the age of ten was given his uncle''s old alto to begin his formal musical education. Influenced by his parents'' extensive record collection, which included artists like Count Basie, Lester Young, Art Tatum, and Duke Ellington, Mark''s playing was soon highly regarded in the school jazz and concert ensembles. His first group was formed at age 14 to play at dances and local sporting events. At South Kitsap High School, Mark played lead alto in the stage band, sang in concert and jazz choirs, played alto clarinet in the concert band, and performed music in school plays.
He worked with his own groups professionally while attending Western Washington University and The Cornish Institute of Allied Arts. Some of his most noted instructors included Dr. Edwin La Bounty, Gary Peacock, and Americole Baisini.
Upon moving to Seattle, not far from his birthplace of Tacoma, Mark hooked up with great players like Candy Finch, Art Foxall, Bea Smith, Dee Daniels, and Buddy Catlet to become a regular feature in Norm Bobrow''s "Jazz at the Cirque." But even though he was becoming successful in the Seattle area, Mark felt the need to broaden his horizons. Following the advice of Dizzy Gillespie''s veteran drummer, Finch, he left Seattle in 1978 with a one-way ticket to Amsterdam, an alto saxophone, and 500 dollars in his pocket.
Rotterdam became Mark’s home base for many years. He toured and played in most of the better clubs throughout Europe with great success, and with some of the finest musicians in Europe. His music is so diverse that in Holland he used three different groups: The Mark Lewis Quartet with Willem Kühne, James Long, and Frans van Grinsven; for neo-bop and experimental works, the Mark Lewis Trio featuring Carlo de Wijs (an organ trio); and for music based on traditional ethnic rhythms, the Mark Lewis International Quintet, featuring musicians from India, Holland, Africa, and South America.
His record company, Audio Daddio, recorded several albums in Rotterdam and Seattle. Artists recorded on the Audio Daddio label include Art Foxall, Vonne Griffin, Al Hood, Art Lande, and David Friesen. Mark frequently traveled back and forth between Europe and the US, recording and promoting Audio Daddio albums, and performing along the way. The last European Audio Daddio recording was “The Rotterdam Session” featuring legendary jazz drummer Philly Joe Jones and tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan. It was the last album Philly Joe Jones recorded before he died.
Mark arranged several European tours for American musicians and American tours for Dutch musicians. He worked as a commercial studio musician for Dutch radio and television, and produced an annual Audio Daddio New Music Festival in Rotterdam. He taught improvised music and jazz theory classes at several music conservatories in Holland.
Mark returned to North America and played up and down the West Coast for a year until he was “discovered” by musician/author Ted Gioia. Mark was asked to audition for a record deal in the San Francisco area. At the end of the audition he found out that he was playing for the great tenor saxophone master Stan Getz, who loved his playing. His first album with this record label, “In The Spirit,” reached into the top 40 on the Billboard Jazz Charts and sold over 900,000 copies.
During his time in the Bay Area, Mark recorded and/or performed with many top jazz musicians such as pianists Mark Levine and Ted Gioia, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, trumpet player Randy Brecker, and drummer Eddie Moore. He frequently subbed for saxophonists Stan Getz and John Handy. He performed at jazz festivals and opened for Carmen McRae at the Palo Alto Jazz Festival. He was called back to Seattle to perform at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley.
Mark also lived for a year and a half in Victoria, British Columbia. His music was very well received throughout British Columbia. He was a fixture at Herman’s Jazz Club in Victoria, and he played for the inauguration of Michael Harcourt, former Premier of British Columbia.
As a musician and composer, Mark’s music is filled with sensitivity and change. The musicians involved with his work understand that the music he shares with them represents his life. This can be felt in the way the members of the groups interact to perform concerts that are both intelligent and exciting. Musical technique moves from simplicity to complexity and back again creating textures influenced by bop, blues, classical, and ethnic music. It is music of the moment.
Although Mark performed predominantly original music in Europe, he is also master of a vast repertoire of jazz standards, as well as popular music of the last 50 years.
As a teacher, Lewis has helped many people discover their musical potential. He began giving improvised music workshops in 1981 when his bass player, Hein van de Geijn, recommended him to an organization in Nijmegen. Mark now teaches privately in Bremerton, WA, where he lives to be near family. Mark''s teaching begins with the physical properties of sound and the ways in which music has developed from them. It is based on understanding and unifying melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic concepts in order to realize music''s intention. He shows that through being sensitive to these concepts and developing the needed technique, one’s essence can pass through music more easily. He places much emphasis on listening and being aware of the moment.
Mark has to his credit more than twenty album productions, over 1000 compositions, and his own record company and studio. His most recent CD, “Worlds Apart,” is a collection of original compositions and improvisations combining Mark’s soulful alto sax and flute with his own keyboard accompaniment.
Mark Lewis is dedicated to creating positive human interaction through the unique music he composes, performs, and records. His standards are high and he is considered by many to be one of improvised music''s most important artists.
"He''s a well-kept secret in the jazz world. It’s a tremendous tragedy that Mark is not better known than he is. Mark combines all the attributes that I look for in a great jazz musician. For one, he has exceptional technical command of his instruments. Secondly, he is endlessly inventive and creative in the way he plays music. Third, he’s able to put his own personal stamp on everything he plays. Very rarely do you encounter musicians who can succeed on all three of those levels. And it doesn’t matter what kind of jazz you like. Want to swing like Lester Young? Ratchet up the rhythmic intensity with Birdlike bop? Dig soul-splitting clarity a la Stan Getz? Lewis is your man. He can step in and play in a cool jazz environment as good as the best of them. It’s almost extraordinary the range of things he’s capable of doing. You listen to the guys with the primo recording contracts on the very top labels, and in my opinion, they’re not in Mark’s league. …. I feel [that Mark] is one of the most lyrical and emotionally committed saxophonists of his generation.”
- Ted Gioia, author “The History of Jazz”
How refreshing to hear an altoist bearing the influences of such consummate lyricists as Paul Desmond and Lee Konitz. This is music whose “coolness” sears.”
- JazzTimes Magazine
A wonderful, gifted saxophonist and creative original, Lewis had been an important influence in the upsurge of local musicians attempting to find their own unique jazz voice.”
- Times Colonist, Victoria, BC
Lewis [plays] a smoky, romantic sax reminiscent of the laid back ‘cool’ jazz of the ‘50s, which stirred yearnings for a dimly lit dance floor.”
- Earshot Jazz
Mark Lewis has an elegant sound and gently builds a solo without being overly busy with notes. As an improviser, he is not only a great soloist, but also creatively uses the ideas he hears from the other musicians, which results in a back and forth creative group sound. He is a master of the modern bop vocabulary, but is not humorless and cliché-bound as so many of his contemporaries are.”
- De Telegraaf, Amsterdam (translation from Dutch)
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