Pearl and I have been extremely busy since two months before our trip to South Africa. With so many projects to organize for the trip and continuing business here in Houston, we have been swamped to a degree unlike anything we had experienced so far. But now that the Jazz Forever gig has passed, we have time to refocus our efforts on our other long term projects.
Before we jump head first into those projects, I want to take a moment to look back at the past few months and share with you what we’ve been up to.
In the weeks leading up to our trip to South Africa, over and above the administrative and logistical efforts that had to be invested into the trip, we were busy with a wide variety of projects ranging from student business to important performances. This is part of what I love about what I do. There is no telling what kind of work I’ll be doing as a musician and music educator.
I went from performing with Jay Burman at the annual Purim Ball at Seven Acres Jewish Senior Care Center to mixing Jazz Forever’s first CD. While we were busy doubling up on lessons to compensate for our time away, I was also working with the Jazz Combo at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts as part of a grant made available by the Thelonious Monk Institute. Then, tossed in along with gigs with The Grooves (a band from Austin), Jim Petty (band from Dallas), David Caceres and Richard Brown, I had the pleasure of flying to Midland Texas to play some jazz with Jacqui Sutton’s Frontier Jazz Orchestra.
There was also a gig with Dena Blue (jazz combo) and two local festival performances, one with my jazz group as part of a Christian music festival and also a festival with Buzzy Smith as a fund raiser for a children’s camp.
As if that wasn’t enough extra work, every free moment I had left over needed to be invested into writing the music for Jazz Forever. By that time, I had written forty-one arrangements for the band and had just been assigned twelve more.
As a result, we were so busy in the weeks leading up to the flight to South Africa that I could barely unwind enough to sleep at all during the three days we were traveling. When we arrived in East London, we were wiped out!
South Africa Projects
Our trip to South Africa was not a holiday. We enjoyed it immensely, but we never intended for it to be a restful vacation. But I won’t go into the details of that work now. We have scheduled a series of blogs to be posted over the next few weeks that will give far more details than what I have space for here.
Jazz Forever Recordings and Other Performances
Immediately after we returned from South Africa, Jazz Forever returned to the studio to record our second CD. Just as with the first CD, I wrote all of the arrangements for the session.
Jazz Forever is a ten piece band specializing in an interesting mix of dixie-land/rag music and swing era big band music. Ben Pokluda has hired me to transcribe the music from the original recordings. This has been a wonderful opportunity for me to exercise my ears and to practice my arranging chops.
Some of the more complex ragtime recordings were extremely challenging to transcribe. I decided to transcribe all of the parts, including the solos. Normally I wouldn’t transcribe solos like that. But I knew that the style in those original recordings is not something that comes naturally to modern jazz musicians. I originally intended for those solos to be used as stylistic references, but in the end, almost all of the musicians (including myself) have chosen to use the original solos.
There is a growing trend in the jazz world to recreate original recordings in this manner. I believe the term for this is “heritage jazz.”
Anyway, as soon as we returned to Houston, I went back to spending every free moment writing music for the band. We had a ballroom dancing gig scheduled and I wanted to be certain we had enough ballroom music to get us through the evening.
The Heights Women’s Club
While we were still recording each weekend, Jazz Forever managed to fit in a public performance at that Height’s Women’s Club. The concert was a great success.
The Heights Women’s Club is an historic institution going back to Houston’s earliest beginnings. The room was perfect for the style of music we performed and it was decorated with patriotic flags and banners for memorial day.
For me, this performance was important because I was the emcee, and also responsible for counting off all of the tunes. To do that and play my part required me to really be on top of my game. I’m not used to dividing my attention this way, between speaking to the audience and playing my part. Usually on a gig, I spend time between tunes looking ahead. But it was a success, which proves to me that I can actually do that sort of thing. I still have a long way to go with that, but it’s good to know that I can actually do it. I got several compliments about that side of our performance.
Here’s a comment John A. submitted on an earlier post:
“Okay, Eddie gave you a heads up on this gig and if you missed it you really missed a GREAT afternoon of JAZZ!
As I understand it, most, if not all, the arrangements were by Eddie Lewis.
Each instrument/player had a solo. The music was from the 19th & 20th century(correct me if I am wrong about this). The arrangements were top notch. If you like notes above the roof tops, there were plenty of those. If you like ‘em in the basement they were there. The harmonies in the trumpet, clarinet and saxophone sections were incredible. Especially the way the baritone sax and the tenor sax harmonized and seemed at times to duel with the melody. If you were not there, you also missed a rendition on the banjo also. As each solo was played the crowd showed its appreciation with a round of applause. The crowd was in to it all the way.
Another interesting aspect of the concert was Eddie’s knowledge of when, where, who and origin of the music played-very informative. I wish I had a program with all that information to review.
Just to note the stamina of the players, they played almost 2 hrs plus before they took a break. And, then came back for another 1 1/2. The rapport between the musicians was excellent: it kept the audience tuned into the concert. They started the concert with their most difficult piece and then ended with the same piece. I do not know the BPM of the pieces but they sure seem to be in the120-160 range on quite a few of them.
The Houston Heights Woman’s Club sponsored the afternoon of jazz and they set out a spread that was very enjoyable. From chips & dip to fruits water and punch was enjoyed by all. If you did not go you missed a first hand opportunity witness superb musicians at their best. Just so you get an idea how good it was, my wife is not into jazz too much but she thoroughly enjoyed it and was disappointed when it ended-she wanted more. It was that GOOD!
And, the rest of you who did not go, maybe next time you will go, I know I will!
Eddie, thank you and Jazz Forever for a great afternoon with great music with superbly talented musicians.
To bring this beautifully busy time to an end and giving us the opportunity to refocus our efforts, Jazz Forever successfully delivered a well received ballroom performance as part of a fundraising effort to restore the Sylvan Beach Pavilion. This was the big deadline I had been working towards for over six weeks with my writing and it turned out that I wrote exactly the correct number of arrangements to get us through the gig. Right as the gig had come to a close we played the last dance chart we had in the book. I look back at this work and the successful performance and they represent something of a milestone for my career.
That’s why I titled this blog as a “career update.” This milestone gives me the confidence I need to move forward with our other projects. And I mean that in so many different ways.
Moving Forward in Selflessness
You know, looking at what led up to this wonderful period of achievement, I realize that this was only possible because I put other people’s needs before my own. If I had set out to do these things for my own benefit, none of it would have ever happened. By putting other people first, by putting their needs before my own, God has opened doors for us to move forward and do more things for more people.
I believe in this approach to business. I believe in doing things God’s way, not the world’s way.
I don’t want to say that I’m perfectly selfless in everything I do. I’m not foolish enough to say that. But I can tell you with 100% confidence that the greater my selflessness, the more of these opportunities God opens up for us.
So I’m not boasting here, telling you about all of our accomplishments. For those who are following our career (Pearl and I now share one single career), this is simply an update. For those who are just casually reading and have gotten this far, this is simply a testimony of God’s greatness.
I still have plenty of music to write for Jazz Forever. It looks like we will be recording our third CD in August and we are currently in the process of working out which songs will be on the recording. But it looks like there will be time to get caught up on some of my blog series (like the Love Is series, the life builders series, the wholesome music priorities series and the musicians’ survival guide series), and to get back to work on some of the project we had put on hold.
So yeah, there is plenty of work ahead. I didn’t intend to make it sound like all the hard work is now over. Quite the opposite, this is just the beginning. But it is WONDERFUL to have these milestones behind us and to know that we did a great job! Praise God!