Mr. Lewis’s Strategy

Where’d I get this (probably twenty years ago)?
“I witnessed a unique dramatization of the best service a John Lewis can render one afternoon last summer, when he coached three local saxophonists through a reading of his winsome “Afternoon in Paris” at a free workshop held in Philadelphia’s Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum. “You have to put yourself at the service of the melody,” Lewis kept insisting. “Your solos should expand the melody or contract it.” The young saxophonists initially approached Lewis’s melody as a succession of chord changes. To a man, they were haunted by Coltrane’s vigor but not possessed of his logic. (If Coltrane often sounded like he was clearing long rows of high hurdles, these Philadelphians—like most young Coltrane followers—sounded as though they were running in place.) but after an hour of tussling, they gave in to Lewis, and their solos gradually took on a lovely tone. Afterwards, they seemed visibly surprised that so simple and straightforward an approach to a melody could have put them in touch with such complexities of feeling, and the audience seemed to share their surprise. Only Lewis acted as though he knew it would work out that way all along. If every improviser were a Louis Armstrong or a Sonny Rollins, jazz would have no crying need for a John Lewis. But since few improvisers are blessed with Armstrong’s or Rollins’s intuitive sense of form, mediators like Lewis serve a crucial function.”

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