|Vic Lewis ...|
Vic Lewis Biography...
Vic Lewis was born in London in 1919 and began playing the banjo when he was three, later switching to guitar and also cornet. While still a schoolboy, he broke his arm on the football field and this, oddly – for the arm was eccentrically set – enabled him to play rhythm guitar for hour after hour without tiring.
In 1935 he formed the Vic Lewis Swing String Quartet, which was soon being broadcast by the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. In September 1939 Lewis volunteered for the RAF. Posted to RAF Brampton in Huntingdon, he met Jack Parnell and Ken Thorne, two musicians who were to play a big part in his music. When they were posted to High Wycombe, Parnell played drums and Buddy Featherstonhaugh tenor sax with Lewis in what became the Buddy Featherstonehaugh Radio Rhythm Club Sextet; they were given time off to broadcast for the BBC.
The presence of military bands in London, including Glenn Miller's, gave Lewis the chance to play again with some skilled Americans. The Featherstonhaugh group made a couple of dozen records for HMV. Lewis and Parnell persuaded Parlophone to give them a recording session and the resulting band, the Vic Lewis and Jack Parnell Jazzmen, recorded 31 titles. One of them, "Ugly Child", sold almost 50,000, then a tremendous achievement for a British jazz record.
When the band broke up, the Vic Lewis Jazzmen began broadcasting for the BBC. The pianist was Ken Thorne, a doctor of music and a church organist who was later to write brilliant orchestrations for Lewis's bands. Under Thorne's influence, Lewis's musical tastes changed rapidly and in November 1946 he introduced his first big band under the billing of "The Music of Tomorrow by the Band of Today". After touring Britain the band appeared at the 1949 Paris Jazz Festival and toured Holland and Ireland. The band contained the cream of young British musicians including, at various times, Tubby Hayes, Kathy Stobart, Ronnie Scott, Kenny Wheeler and Stan Reynolds. Lewis became obsessive about the "progressive" and very loud music of Stan Kenton. He adapted many of Kenton's arrangements and tried to emulate everything that Kenton did. He bypassed the British bebop era, concentrating his modern leanings on the music of Stan Kenton.
In August 1952 Lewis collapsed twice on stage with heart trouble and rested for eight weeks.
On his return his agent, had arranged for the band to back Frankie Laine on tour. This was so successful that they toured with Johnnie Ray. But the band's first tour of the US in 1956 was as part of a rock'n'roll package that included Bill Haley's Comets, Chuck Berry and The Platters, and audiences were not amused by the band. They toured again in 1958, mostly to universities, much more successfully, and on their 1959 visit, with Dudley Moore as the band's pianist, they appeared mostly at military camps, but also at New York's Birdland on Broadway. Despite financial help from his mother, in 1960 Lewis's band failed in the face of the challenge from rock music. From 1959 onwards Lewis worked mostly as a booking agent, forming a partnership with an ex-professional wrestler, Bill Benny.
He made an auspicious return to jazz in 1984 when he put a big band together to record with the visiting American jazz musicians Shorty Rogers and Bud Shank, stars of the Californian West Coast scene. The following year he recorded Shank again, this time with the BBC Radio Big Band, and in November 1985 he organised a charity gala at the Royal Festival Hall with the RPO, Dizzy Gillespie and Shank.
In his later years he did much work for charity – for which he was made MBE in 2007 – produced albums by his beloved West Coast jazz musicians, and published books. The last of them, the lavish My Life In Jazz, (2006) featured hundreds of photographs of Vic with the famous, from Lester Young to Frank Sinatra and Nat "King" Cole. He died in London on February 9th, 2009 a short while before his 90th birthday.
Vic Lewis began leading groups from the mid 1930s and recorded regularly. His groups are interesting because of the number of musicians he used who became prominent figures on the jazz scene. The early records from 1937 to 1939 included, amongst others, Reg Arnold, Carlo Krahmer, George Shearing, George Chisholm, Bertie King and Johnny Claes.
From the 1940s onwards many of Britain's best known modern jazz musicians worked in one of Vic's many bands. They included Jimmy Skidmore, Kathy Stobart, Tubby Hayes, Bobby Wellins, Hank Shaw, Dill Jones, Les Condon, Ronnie Scott, Kenny Wheeler, Duncan Lamont, Ronnie Ross, Alan Branscombe, Vic Ash, Terry Shannon, Allan Ganley and Bert Courtley...
Early discography from 1937 to 1939
Vic Lewis Swing String Quartet - November 1st, 1937 (Billy Higgs)
Ron Burton (vln), Allan Hames, Vic Lewis (g), Joe Muslin (b).
Darktown Strutters Ball.
Vic Lewis and his Four - November 2nd, 1937 (Billy Higgs)
Sidney Raymond (cl), Mortimer Cott (p), Vic Lewis (g), Peter Boutewood (d), Peggy Wing (vcl).
You Can't Take That Away From Me (vcl PW)/Mood Hollywood/China Boy.
Vic Lewis and Carlo Krahmer's Windy City Six - May, 1938 (Lincon Rhythm Style)
Reg Arnold (tp), Dave Simmonds (cl,ts), Bert Howard (p), Vic Lewis (g), Joe Muslin (b), Carlo Krahmer (d).
Sally/Pardon Me Pretty Baby/Lonesome And Sorry/Lincon Breakdown.
Vic Lewis Sobbers - May, 1938 (Lincon Rhythm Style)
Vic Lewis (p), Howard Lucraft (g), Peter Boutewood (d).
Deep Tenth Blues.
Vic Lewis, Howard Lucraft (g), Ron Burton (vln).
Vic Lewis, Howard Lucraft, Alan Hames (g), Ron Burton (vln), Peter Boutewood (d).
Honeysuckle Rose .
Vic Lewis and Carlo Krahmer's Blue Six - June, 1938 (Lincon Rhythm Style)
Jerry Kane (cl), Harry McCombe (vln), George Shearing (p), Vic Lewis (g), Alf Hickman (b), Carlo Krahmer (d).
Jada/In De Ruff.
Vic Lewis and Carlo Krahmer's Blue Seven - June, 1938 (Lincon Rhythm Style)
Jerry Kane (cl,bs), Harry McCombe (vln), Carlo Krahmer (vib), George Shearing (p), Vic Lewis, Joe Dalton (g), Joe Muslin (b), Joe Kay (d).
Girl Of My Dreams/Saturday Night Function/Vicology/ Daphne/ Feeling My Way.
Vic Lewis and Carlo Krahmer Band - June 30th, 1938 (Lincon Rhythm Style)
Leslie 'Jiver' Hutchinson (tp), George Chisholm (tb), Bertie King (cl,as), George Shearing (p), Vic Lewis (g), Joe Muslin (b), Carlo Krahmer (d,vib).
I Aint Got Nobody*/Shine On Harvest Moon*#/Angry*/Stooge Blues*#.
(*Candid CD - Vic Lewis 'The Golden Years' 1938,1945 and 1946)
(#Retrospective CD - George Chisholm The Gentleman of Jazz - A Centenary Tribute)
Vic Lewis Jersey Jumpers - September 22nd, 1938 (Lincon)
Bert Wade (tp), George Shearing (p), Vic Lewis (g), Carlo Krahmer (d).
Don't Be That Way/Why Do I Love You.
Vic Lewis Chicago Stompers - September 24th, 1938 (Lincon)
Al Baum (ts), George Shearing (p), Vic Lewis (g), Carlo Krahmer (d).
At The Jazz Band Ball/Black Eyes.
In October, 1938 Vic Lewis recorded two sessions in New York as "Vic Lewis and his American Jazzmen". These were later issued in the UK on the Esquire label...
Vic Lewis and Carlo Krahmer Band - January 10th, 1939 (Days Rhythm Style)
Reg Arnold (tp), Jack Adare (cl,ts), George Shearing (p), Vic Lewis (g), Carlo Krahmer (d).
Mighty Like the Blues/Muskrat Ramble/There'll Come a Time/Jazz Me Blues/Sobbin' Blues/Boogie Woogie Blues.
Vic Lewis and Carlo Krahmer Stompers - April 3rd, 1939 (Days Rhythm Style)
Johnny Claes (cnt), Derek Neville (cl,ts), Reggie Dare (ts), George Shearing (p), Vic Lewis (g), Wilky Davis (b), Carlo Krahmer (d).
Exactly Like You/Runnin' Wild Blues/I Never Knew/7th Avenue At 51st. Street.
Vic Lewis and Carlo Krahmer Chicagoans - April, 1939 (Days Rhythm Style)
Reg Arnold (cnt), Jack Adare (cl), George Shearing (p), Vic Lewis (g), Carlo Krahmer (d).
King Porter Stomp/Sugarfoot Stomp/Tiger Jazz/I'll See You In My Dreams.
Vic Lewis and Carlo Krahmer Chicagoans - June 3rd, 1939 (G.S. Rhythm Style)
Reg Arnold (cnt), Jack Adare (cl), Bert Howard (p), Vic Lewis (g), Carlo Krahmer (d).
Copenhagen/Original Dixie One Step/Baby Blues.
Vic Lewis and Carlo Krahmer Chicagoans - July 18th, 1939 (G.S. Rhythm Style)
Archie Craig (tp), Ken Oldham (ts), Cliff Townshend (cl), Abe Walters (p,tb-1), Vic Lewis (g,p-1), Sid Gross (g), Jack Morgan (b), Carlo Krahmer (d).
I'm Coming Virginia/I've Found A New Baby(1).