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Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra
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"Groove Merchant" by the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra, recorded in September 1969 at the Battle of the Bands concert in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for Dutch Television.
Thad Jones was born in on March 28, 1923 in Pontiac, Michigan, to a musical family of ten (an older brother was pianist Hank Jones and a younger brother was drummer Elvin Jones). Thad Jones was a self-taught musician, performing professionally by the age of sixteen. He served in U.S. Army bands during World War II (1943Ė46).
After Army service including an association with the U.S. Military School of Music and working with area bands in Des Moines and Oklahoma City, Thad became a member of the Count Basie Orchestra in May 1954. He was featured as a soloist on such well-known tunes as "April in Paris", "Shiny Stockings" and "Corner Pocket". However, his main contribution was his nearly two dozen arrangements and compositions for the Basie Orchestra, including "The Deacon", "H.R.H." (Her Royal Highness, in honor of the bandís command performance in London), "Counter Block", and lesser known gems such as "Speaking of Sounds". His hymn-like ballad "To You" was performed by the Basie band combined with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in their only recording together, and the recording "Dance Along With Basie" contains nearly an entire album of Jonesí uncredited arrangements of standard tunes.
Jones left the Basie Orchestra in 1963 to become a freelance arranger and studio player in New York. In 1965, he and drummer Mel Lewis formed The Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra. The group initially began with informal late-night jam sessions among New York's top studio musicians. The group eventually began performing at the Village Vanguard in February 1966, to wide acclaim, and continued with Jones in the lead for twelve years. They won a 1978 Grammy Award for their album Live in Munich. Jones also taught at William Paterson College in New Jersey, which is now the site of the Thad Jones Archive, containing pencil scores and vintage photos as part of the Living Jazz Archives.
Jones' big-band arranging style was unique, especially from the standpoint of featuring dissonant voicings in a tonal context. This required the members of his big band to play correctly in tune, otherwise the dense chords he wrote would not sound correct. Minor 2nds and major 7ths are often featured in his voicings, especially when the entire band plays a long, powerful chord.
One of the more notable albums he made in this regard is Suite for Pops recorded on the A&M Records Horizon label the early 1970s. It also featured the intense bebop improvisations of saxophonist Billy Harper and the high note screech playing of lead trumpet player Jon Faddis.
In 1978, Thad suddenly moved to Copenhagen, Denmark (to the great surprise of his New York band mates), where several other American jazz musicians had gone to live. Upon Thadís 1978 departure to live in Europe, the band continued as the Mel Lewis Orchestra until Lewisís death in February 1990, after which they performed as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, still including several Thad Jones alumni, continuing the Monday night Village Vanguard tradition into its fifth decade.
In February 1985, he returned to the U.S. to take the leadership of the Basie Orchestra upon his former leaderís death, fronting the Basie band in numerous tours, and writing arrangements for recordings and performances with vocalist Caterina Valente and Manhattan Transfer, but had to step down due to ill health. He returned to his home in Copenhagen for the last few months of his life. He died on August 21, 1986, after being hospitalized for months, but his cause of death was not published. He is buried in Copenhagen's Vestre Kirkegard Cemetery (Western Churchyard Cemetery). His best known composition is the standard "A Child is Born".
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