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Overdue Ovation for George Lewis

An artistic academic, a soulful technologist

George Lewis
George Lewis, Chicago Jazz Festival, 2015

At a certain stage of a European tour by the Count Basie Orchestra in the spring of 1976, the band’s newest member, trombonist George Lewis, hired on a recommendation from his parents’ South Side Chicago neighbor, trumpeter Sonny Cohn, decided to inject some Dadaistic levity into his nightly feature, a three-chorus solo on a fast blues called “Hittin’ Twelve.”

“My solo was silent, like John Cage, just gestures,” Lewis, 63, recalled in his office at Columbia University, where he was hired in 2004 as the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music. “Now, you have to be somehow in your own reality to think that would go through and that you wouldn’t be fired the next day-which I was not. Soon after, while we were waiting for a train, the Chief walked up to me. I noticed that people were gathering around because they wanted to hear what he’d say.

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