Seattle area native Mark Lewis is a well-traveled saxophonist and flutist who has created a large body of jazz music over the past four decades. He’s been a part of jazz scenes from Seattle and San Francisco to Rotterdam and Paris. His new album, The New York Session, features piano legend George Cables, veteran bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis.
Born in Tacoma and raised on a farm outside of nearby Gig Harbor, Mark Lewis absorbed music from both sides of his family. His paternal grandmother was a concert pianist, and his maternal grandfather played saxophone (a C melody horn that Lewis started playing at age nine). Despite profound visual impairment, he had free run of the family hi-fi system and soaked up Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Art Tatum while investigating his parents’ record collection.
Lewis’s waking hours were filled with music through his school years, and he went on to study composition, flute, electronic music, and piano at Western Washington University and the Cornish Institute of Allied Arts.
Settling in Seattle, Lewis started performing regularly at Norm Bobrow’s Jazz at the Cirque showcase, and quickly found invaluable colleagues and mentors amongst resident masters like Art Foxall, Bea Smith, Dee Daniels, and Buddy Catlett. Drum master Otis “Candy” Finch, who moved to Seattle after a sterling New York career recording with heavyweights like Stanley Turrentine, Herbie Hancock and Dizzy Gillespie, recognized Lewis’s budding talent and took him under his wing. He also encouraged him to get out of town, and in 1978 the 20-year-old saxophonist flew to Europe with a one-way ticket and his alto sax, $500 in his pocket, and virtually no contacts.