Primary Instrument: Band/ensemble/orchestra
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is the current title for a band that began life as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra in 1966 and has performed continuously ever since. The story is familiar but bears repeating that in 1966 cornetist, composer, arranger, Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis founded a band in New York. Having settled in New York after leaving their respective touring jobs with Basie and Kenton, Thad and Mel along with many of their colleagues needed an outlet for their creative energies and relief from the tedium of the studio work. With a handful of arrangements they approached legendary club owner Max Gordon and were booked at the Village Vanguard for 3 Mondays in February. Critical acclaim, awards and international success followed but in 1979, tired of frequent traveling and the economic uncertainty that even great jazz musicians endure in America, Thad left the band to accept leadership of the Danish Radio Orchestra in Copenhagen. Mel decided to continue the band now billed as Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra and enlisted the talents of his old friend and former band member Bob Brookmeyer who, miraculously was just returning to active playing and composing in New York. The band not only survived but with Brookmeyer’s writing continued the innovation and influence that Thad and Mel had began. Bob moved on to other projects and ultimately also settled in Europe, the new material coming from within the band now. In 1990 the band would endure a terrible blow when Mel Lewis died after a 5 year battle with cancer. For the members, all of whom had been there 5 years and several over 10, losing Mel was a deep family tragedy, for great bands invariably become families. They are also teams; and in this spirit decided to continue the band as a cooperative effort. ( When asked who was “fronting” the band one of the veterans was heard snapping “...the music”.)
So three weeks have become a permanent gig spanning over four decades and another name change; to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Several of the current key members played for Thad, so the original precepts of sound and swinging are proudly held and displayed while the other original precepts of creativity and experimentation are nurtured and encouraged. The Village Vanguard is still a great place to be on a Monday night no matter which side of the bandstand you’re on. The orchestra's recording titled, “The Way--Music of Slide Hampton” won a Grammy in 2004 for “best arrangements for jazz orchestra”. 2006-2007, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra performances in the U.S include the University of Arizona, Michigan State University, Kansas State University, Detroit’s Symphony Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, University of Massachusetts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In the summer of 2007 the Vanguard returned to Europe performing at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, the Imatra Big Band Festival in Finland, the Blue Note Records Festival in Belgium, and also gave performances in Italy and Germany.The orchestra began a yearly commitment to Assisi Jazz, a concert series in Assisi, Italy that incorporates the orchestra's education program “Precepts of Swing”. Upcoming appearances include Clemson University, University of Florida Gainesville, University of Nebraska Lincoln, Shippensburg University and Princeton University. Their 2005 recording, “Up from the Skies” the music of ensemble’s pianist, composer and arranger, Jim McNeely, was nominated for two Grammys including “ best jazz ensemble.” Their last new recording 'Monday Night at The Village Vanguard' receives a Grammy Nomination for the Best Instrumental Arrangement. (Bob Brookmeyer-St. Louis Blues) and a Grammy Award for the Best Large Jazz Ensemble.
TRUMPETS: Nick Marchione, Frank David Greene, Terell Stafford, Scott Wendholt
TROMBONES: John Mosca, Luis Bonilla, Jason Jackson, Douglas Purviance.
REEDS: Dick Oatts, Billy Drewes, Ralph Lalama, Richie Perry, Gary Smulyan
RHYTHM: Jim McNeely-p, David Wong-b, John Riley-d
Monday Night Live At The Village Vanguard
Up From The Skies, Music of Jim McNeely
The Way, Music of Slide Hampton - 2005
Can I Persuade You
Thad Jones Legacy
Lickety Split, Music of Jim McNeely
To You - Tribute to Mel Lewis
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