Jazz Professional               

Mel Lewis

Happier than ever

Two lucky guys
Our happy band
Happier than ever
Cliff Weather
Earl Gardner
Talking to Les Tomkins in 1973

I’m happier than ever with the band —I think it’s the best we’ve ever been. We’ve got the same personnel we had last time we were here—that’s a year–and–a–half ago—except for Butter Jackson.

He’s having some dental work done, and that’s the only reason he’s not here. Although his replacement is a marvellous player, a young musician who’s probably a future member of this band, if and when somebody leaves. His name is Steve Turre—it’s a Mexican–Italian name. Or Italian–Mexican—I’m not sure which.

I believe I’m playing stronger now. As I want to, because it’s a harder bag, you know; the band swings harder than we’ve ever done.

It’s still very loose and relaxed, as it’s always been; it’s not stiff, by any means. I guess we’re all playing with a little more drive. Yet we can be as subtle as we always were, too.

Most of my jazz work is done with this band now. But I’ve been playing a lot of jazz lately, doing a lot of small group work. When I say a lot, I mean more than usual, more than ever, but it’s still intermittent.

First call is still the big band—which is working a lot more than it ever did. Things are really happening for us now. It’s looking up–and–up; I feel pretty happy about it. I think our time has finally come.

It s been a long, hard climb, but I think we’ve gotten there. I mean, we’re not at the top, as regards acceptance, but we’re probably one of the best at what we do and, for the size of the audience, we’ve got more people on our side now.We’re going to continue and continue with this, because it’s our love. It’s what we always wanted; it’s keeping Thad and myself young, and all of us happy. When Thad and I went into it, people thought we were crazy. These are dumb years to be starting big bands. Neither one of us have what you’d call any money.

But we’ve gotten a lot of help from people,—who believed in us, who’d just jump in and say or do the right things. A lot of the writers, and all that, have all jumped on our bandwagon, and been kind to us. That’s been important. Whereas so many other people have paid for that, when they don’t really deserve it sometimes. Of course, some do. But we can’t afford press agents, and things like that, who can keep your activities in the paper every day, make you a household name. It’s much slower this way.

Also there’s been our refusal to do real commercial things. Our commerciality is mostly the fun and the laughs; we have a lot of humour in this band—which is not contrived.

It’s actually just fun. We have some little bits we do, that have come along, that we think the audience enjoys, but we haven’t sacrificed our music for it—and that’s usually what you have to do to make it. It’s the last thing in the world we're gonna do.

Copyright © 1973, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.