By Margit Resch
Who comes to mind when you think of legendary jazz musicians? You are right, there is not enough space on a newspaper page for such a list. But let’s mention just a few to get into the groove: Louis Armstrong with his magic trumpet, who popularized scat singing with his gravelly voice; Ella Fitzgerald, The First Lady of Jazz, who actually transcends jazz, who performed and recorded extensively until the late 1980 and won thirteen Grammy Awards. Nat King Cole, one of the most popular jazz pianists and singers of the 20th century, who sold over 50 million records and inspires musicians to this day. Duke Ellington, probably the greatest jazz composer in history with tunes like Don’t Get Around Much Anymore or Mood Indigo and hundreds of other jazz standards. Billie Holiday, a vocal pioneer who made her debut at age 18 in 1933 with Benny Goodman. Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Nina Simone. Ok, ok. Enough.
Are you now in the jazz mood? Well, you don’t have to go to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, to treat yourself to a live concert. The fabulous Robert Lewis Quartet, most likely consisting of saxophone, drums, bass and keyboard, is coming to Fripp Island on November 12. This group of jazz musicians is representing a major portion of the current music scene in Charleston—you guessed it: JAZZ! Along with the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, of course. According to the Charleston Jazz website, this orchestra “is an entertaining and educational example of the rich history and legacy of jazz in Charleston.” It “has become known for unique, enthusiastically received concerts that contribute mightily to the ever-evolving Lowcountry arts scene.” So has the Robert Lewis Quartet, no doubt.
Both, the jazz quartet and the jazz orchestra, are directed, not surprisingly, by Robert Lewis, who just loves the sound of jazz, as he put it. “The melodies, harmonic language, and, most importantly, the rhythmic language has captivated me since I was very young. Also, the improvisation that is a requisite part of a jazz performance is extremely satisfying. To compose and perform simultaneously is one of the great joys I find in music, and since the entire group is often improvising there is really a conversation (in music) happening all the time.”
Robert Lewis, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and educator, learned to play saxophone in middle school. He went on to study classical and jazz saxophone at the University of Idaho and then earned a master’s degree in saxophone performance from Western Michigan University. He has been teaching, performing and composing in the jazz genre for decades and has been serving as the director of jazz studies at the College of Charleston for over twenty years. Being a member of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra from its beginning and, thus, participating in its growth into a major arts entity in Charleston has been one of Lewis’s major pleasures, and he was more than honored to be named its director in 2018. Known around the globe as ambassadors of Charleston’s rich musical heritage, the 18-member Charleston Jazz Orchestra is proud to unveil their 15th season this year with unparalleled big band performances.
However, Lewis’s greatest achievements are not garnered in the public music arena, so he says, but on the more personal home stage: “Raising a couple of good kids and having a great marriage.” Cheers to you and your family, Robert. Several of the famous jazz musicians listed above said something similar, like Ella Fitzgerald, who was married to Ray Brown, a jazz legend on double bass and cello, and who had a boy named Ray Brown Jr., Ella’s pride and joy, even though he was adopted from her sister Frances.
Come and tune in to a jazzy “conversation” amongst the four members of the Robert Lewis Quartet on Sunday, November 12 at 5:00 pm at the Fripp Island Community Centre, 205 Tarpon Boulevard. Attendees get a pass at the Fripp gate. Tickets at the door: adults $30, students free thanks to the Peg Gorham Memorial Fund.
It is still worth your while to become a member of Fripp Island Friends of Music. Membership gives you access to the remaining four concerts, including the post-performance reception, where you meet the musicians while enjoying delicious hors d’oeuvres prepared fresh by Harold’s Chef Services. It also helps fund FIFOM’s Music-in-the-Schools program. The basic FIFOM membership, $100, has not changed. It saves you $20 compared to the sum of four $30-tickets. FIFOM is supported by the SC Arts Commission. To become a member, text or call Vanessa Peñaherrera at (704) 807-0255 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.frippfriendsofmusic.com for more information.