Recently I posted a photo of Mel Lewis on Facebook and received many responses. Anyone who had ever seen Mel play drums would be baffled at how effortlessly and natural he was. His solos are often described as sounding like a “stack of boxes falling down a long staircase.” Yet his time, touch, feel and sensitivity epitomized good taste.
We would often have discussions concerning technique, especially hand grip, such as match vs. traditional grip, the necessity of reading music and the discipline of honing your Art. One of my fondest memories was his method of cymbal selection. I knew his reputation of being extremely particular and selective when it came to cymbals. When he initially became an Istanbul endorsee a huge box of cymbals arrived at Drummers World for him to sort out. It did not take long to narrow his choices. He would cup an ear with one hand and test the cymbal with the other; immediately, his choice was made. He knew in an instant if the cymbal could work in his setup, if it was good for big band or small ensemble. His experiences over the years helped develop ‘how’ to listen and what to listen for. Of course, the fact is, his touch brought the most out of the cymbal. When I played his choice, it never sounded the same. Mel was always very opinionated and stubborn; however, I felt a loyalty and a respect if he liked you.
When he was a teenager he met his inspiration, Gene Krupa. Once together at a club a photo was taken of the two of them sitting together. Mel went on to great success with the Stan Kenton Band, numerous recordings and leading the famous Mel Lewis-Thad Jones Big Band. One day while reminiscing about Gene and without missing a beat, he reached for his wallet and showed me the photo taken with Gene so many years earlier. He claimed to always carry the picture with him. I saw in his eyes his dedication, pride and loyalty which I will always remember and respect.
He could cut and trim
To fine tune