Description: Band, USA

Known For: Live In Munich (Album)

Music Styles: Be Bop, Jazz

Location: United States of America

Web Site:   Downbeat interview with Thad Jones and Mel Lewis

Other Links: See below:



Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Big Band

An American Jazz Band.

Formed, mid sixties in New York.

The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra was a jazz big band formed by trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis around 1965. The band performed for twelve years in its original incarnation, and included a 1972 tour of the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. The band won a 1978 Grammy Award for the album Live in Munich and in 2009 a Grammy Award for the album Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard. The collaboration ended in 1978 with Jones suddenly moving to Copenhagen, Denmark, after which the band became the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Since the death of Lewis in 1990 it has been known as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. They have maintained a Monday-night residency at the Village Vanguard for four decades.

The orchestra started out as a group of all-star studio musicians getting together for midnight practice sessions at any place within walking distance from Jim and Andy’s, a bar frequented by New York musicians. They eventually debuted at the Village Vanguard in New York in 1966, and were quickly noticed by jazz insiders for their originality and virtuoso skills.

The band had its own unique style, and tradition along the lines of big band swing, bebop and hard bop. The sound was powerful, fast, intellectual and fun to listen to. Their pieces required a high degree of skill to play. Thad Jones, a trumpeter who toured (and wrote) for the Count Basie Orchestra during the 1950s, led the group, was its main arranger, and was occasionally featured, most often on flugelhorn. Mel Lewis, co-leader, produced a drum style with the band that was unique for big bands. The extent in which he was able to incorporate the loose, open approach of small group playing was a major innovation. His cymbal work added a texture and richness that is one of the hallmarks of the band. Every big band drummer after Lewis has been influenced by him to some degree.

The orchestra was arguably the most influential big band since the swing era. It was also an unusual band; creating new styles, succeeding in an era where big bands were out of favor, and remaining integrated during racially tense periods. The band initially was made of all-stars, but over time endeavored to showcase new talent (e.g. Jon Faddis). Jones’s arrangements proved to be highly influential upon modern composers such as Maria Schneider, Bob Brookmeyer (who is also an alumnus), Jim McNeely, Bill Kirchner, Richard DeRosa, Bob Mintzer, Jerry Dodgion, and many others. His songs built upon the innovations previously pioneered by jazz composers such as Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. Since the mid-1980s, the band has been renamed the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, continuing its tradition as the Village Vanguard’s house band.


Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra
Opening Night (recorded 1966, released 2000) Alan Grant Presents
Presenting Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra (1966) Solid State Records
Presenting Joe Williams and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, The Jazz Orchestra (1966) Solid State
Live at the Village Vanguard (1967) Solid State
The Big Band Sound of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis featuring Miss Ruth Brown (1968) Solid State
Monday Night (1968) Solid State
Central Park North (1969) Solid State
Basle, 1969 (recorded 1969, released 1996) TCB Music
Consummation (1970) Solid State/Blue Note
Live in Tokyo (1974) Denon Jazz
Potpourri (1974) Philadelphia International
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and Manuel De Sica (1974) Pausa
Suite for Pops (1975) Horizon/A&M
New Life: Dedicated to Max Gordon (1975) A&M
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra With Rhoda Scott aka Rhoda Scott in New York with… (1976)
Live in Munich (1976) Horizon/A&M
It Only Happens Every Time (1977) EMI Records – with Monica Zetterlund
Body and Soul aka Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra in Europe (1978) West Wind Jazz – Live in Berlin
A Touch of Class (1978) West Wind Jazz – Live in Warsaw

Video performances[edit]
Jazz Casual – Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra… (recorded 1968) – a 1968 television appearance

The Blue Note Reissue Series: Thad Jones/Mel Lewis (recorded 1966–1970) Blue Note
The Complete Solid State Recordings of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (recorded 1966–1970) Mosaic Records/Blue Note
In Europe (2007) ITM
The Complete (Live in) Poland Concerts 1976 & 1978 (2009) Gambit

Jones and Lewis as guests with other orchestras
Greetings and Salutations (1975) Town Crier – Jones, Lewis and Jon Faddis with the Swedish Radio Jazz Group, Stockholm
Thad Jones, Mel Lewis and UMO (1977) RCA Records – Jones and Lewis with the UMO Jazz Orchestra, Helsinki

Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra

Naturally (1979) Telarc
Live in Montreux: Mel Lewis Plays Herbie Hancock (1980) MPS Records/ Pausa
Live at the Village Vanguard…Featuring the Music of Bob Brookmeyer (1980)
Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra (1982) Finesse
20 Years at the Village Vanguard (1985) Atlantic
Definitive Thad Jones, Vol. 1 (1988) Music Masters Jazz
Definitive Thad Jones, Vol. 2 (1988) Music Masters Jazz
Soft Lights and Hot Music (1988) Music Masters Jazz
To You: A Tribute to Mel Lewis (1990) Music Masters Jazz

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

Lickety Split, The Music of Jim McNeely (1997) New World Records
Thad Jones Legacy, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (1999) New World Records
Can I Persuade You (2002) Planet Arts
The Way, Music of Slide Hampton (2004) Planet Arts
Up From The Skies, Music of Jim McNeely (2006) Planet Arts
Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard (2008) Planet Arts – double CD
Forever Lasting Live in Tokyo (2011) Planet Arts – double CD
Over Time: The Music of Bob Brookmeyer (2014) Planet Arts


Thad Jones
Eddie Bert
Luis Bonilla
Jim Bossy
Cecil Bridgewater
Bob Brookmeyer
Jon Faddis
Stephen Furtado
Cliff Heather
Jason Jackson
Quentin Jackson
Jack Jeffers
Virgil Jones
Jimmy Knepper
John Mosca
Ed Neumeister
Lynn Nicholson

Al Porcino
Douglas Purviance
Lew Soloff
Marvin Stamm
Julius Watkins
Scott Wendholt
Snooky Young


Pepper Adams
Frank Basile
Ron Bridgewater
Steve Coleman
Eddie Daniels
Jerry Dodgion
Billy Drewes
Joe Farrell
Don Palmer
Frank Foster
Kenny Garrett
Billy Harper
Gregory Herbert
Ralph LaLama
Joe Lovano
Lou Marini
Dick Oatts
Bob Mintzer
Rich Perry
Chris Potter
Jerome Richardson
Gary Smulyan
Eddie Xiques
Joe Henderson

Roland Hanna
Hank Jones
Jim McNeely

Walter Norris
Harold Danko
Kenny Werner
Michael Weiss

Bass Bob Bowman
Richard Davis
Dennis Irwin
George Mraz
Rufus Reid
David Wong

Drums Mel Lewis
Tim Horner
Dennis Mackrel
John Riley

Vocals Dee Dee Bridgewater
Ruth Brown
Joe Williams