It won't take long in most conversations about jazz big bands before someone reverently references some piece or recording by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Starting off with a short run of Monday night gigs at the Village Vanguard in 1966 (one of New York City's eminent jazz clubs), the band quickly exploded into success and carved out its place in jazz history as having a defining sound among jazz large ensembles. Over 2700 Monday night gigs later, the current incarnation of group (called the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra) holds the longest-running steady jazz gig ever, and has featured remarkable musicians such as Bob Brookmeyer, Jon Faddis, Jerome Richardson, and Joe Henderson — not to mention the co-founders, trumpet player Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis.
In addition to contributing brilliant performances on trumpet, Jones acted as the main composer for the group, and his style has influenced many composers since. On Monday, April 1, McGill Jazz Orchestra I will pay homage to Jones and his lineage in a tribute concert.
In advance of the performance, we asked members of Schulich's jazz faculty to tell us about their favourite charts or albums by Jones, which we've listed below. An accompanying Spotify playlist can be found here.
Christine Jensen: "Us"
"I played a high school version of it, and it got me addicted me to jazz. I never thought that I would end up composing for that size ensemble once I left school, but Thad hooked me beyond playing the music, to the point of composition! I still try to go to hear the Vanguard Orchestra on Mondays when I am in New York!"
Donny: "A ballad with beautiful orchestration."
Jim Doxas: "Big Dipper," "The Groove Merchant," and more
"I have always had a deep love and admiration for the music and collaborative works of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. Both albums Central Park North and Consummation are among my favourites. Central Park North features tunes such as 'Big Dipper' and 'The Groove Merchant,' and Consummation features 'Us,' and of course, 'A Child Is Born.' Always so elegant, perfectly balanced and swinging."
"I had the opportunity to play with Thad’s brother, pianist Hank Jones. One day I was eating lunch with Hank and I was asking about his incredibly strong and active musical family. To be honest, I was excited to hear some Elvin stories. He talked mostly about Thad. He spoke beautifully about how much he respected Thad’s imagination and musicality. He also mentioned several times how he was amazed by his limitless work ethic and energy. It was a fascinating insight to a musical dynasty."
Min: "If I had to choose a favourite recording, it would be the CD called 'Presenting Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra,' and my favorite track is called 'Three and One.' It's a great one with amazing solis."
Adrian: "In my second year of big band as a Concordia student, we played a lot of Jones/Lewis charts. I was amazed at how hard their group swung. Being a bassist, I was impressed by how Richard Davis played behind the soloist; very adventurous in his note choices, and rhythmic accompaniment."
Jean-Michel Pilc: "A Child Is Born"
"It’s beautiful and moving, and an immortal melody (a rare thing)."
Schulich Community Picks:
On Facebook, we asked our community to choose their favourite album between Central Park North or Consummation:
- 67% picked Consummation (24 votes)
- 33% chose Central Park North (12 votes)
McGill Jazz Orchestra I will pay homage to Thad Jones and those inspired by him in a tribute concert on April 1, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. in Tanna Schulich Hall.