Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

John Lewis: Evolution

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Lewis’ distillation of melody, harmony, time and touch reaches its most exquisite expression here in “Django,” a composition he wrote in memory of Django Reinhardt in 1953 and has played thousands of times. In this mesmerizing solo piano program, he presents “Django” in the next phase of its interpretive evolution. Lewis lets the three strains pass at the pace of a stately processional, so slowly that in seven-and-a-half minutes he plays only four choruses. He seems to be selecting the notes and lining up the chords to position them like jewels, putting them in the most intense and revealing light. It is rare for a pianist-composer to meld his strengths of intellect and heart to offer so intimate a view inside a piece. Beethoven did in the opus 78 and 81a sonatas, Bill Evans in “Peace Piece,” Ellington in “Lotus Blossom.”

In “For Ellington,” Lewis develops nearly the same emotional weight as in “Django.” Only its broader stylistic range keeps it from achieving the same concentration of feeling. In all 11 tracks, Lewis’ simplicity and profundity go, like Count Basie’s, beyond mere musicianship into musicality, the most expressive use of the material at hand. Thus, the joyousness of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Cherokee” and the rollicking sketch called “At the Horse Show” have specific gravity to equal that of the slower and more somber pieces.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.