A biography of a Jazz bandleader and Impresario in photographic form.

Jazz pioneering musician and band leader Vic Lewis nurtured almost every major British jazz personality under his band leader’s baton or as agent/manager.

The Vic Lewis Story follows a mammoth playing, conducting, and recording career through the nostalgic echoes of Downtown New York from the ‘30s right up to the latest work recently completed with Andy Martin and Christian Jacob - two of the world's top jazz artists.

As you flick over the pages of his life, there are not only musical records in this bible of jazz but emotive and historic photographic records that span the formative years of British and international jazz right up to today. A bayou tapestry of jazz history seen through the eyes of a man who is without doubt one of Britain’s greatest witnesses to the jazz era.

During his first trip to America in 1938, where with the help of Leonard Feather, my cousin, meetings had been arranged with Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, and Buddy Rich at the Hickory House on 48th Street New York, he was able to sit in and play guitar with these jazz greats. Just as memorable to him were meetings with Bobby Hackett, Eddie Condon, and Pee Wee Russell, arranged for him at Nick’s Club in Greenwich Village. Here Vic enjoyed himself in the company of Tommy Dorsey, and Jack Teagarden, whilst Sidney Bechet was part of the supporting group with Zutty Singleton and Wellman Braud.

The man who had shepherded Vic around Downtown New York, Leonard Feather, had earlier plucked George Shearing out of Vic’s formative band and whisked him away to America, where they both progressed to become, respectively, legends of jazz criticism and piano, and long time friends of Vic’s.

With the start of World War II, Vic joined the RAF in 1939, and was posted to Bomber Command HQ. Joining the Buddy Featherstonehaugh Quintet he met up with drummer Jack Parnell, with whom he was later to co-run their own band after the War. It was during the War period that Vic was also to meet Glen Miller, and record with Sam Donahue, Jimmy McPartland, and Johnny Mince.

In the 1950s The Vic Lewis Jazzmen changed its style and was enlarged to form the Vic Lewis Orchestra, enjoying widespread acclaim over the next decade in dance hall and on BBC radio. Another line up variation, The Vic Lewis Orchestra, toured the US in 1956,'58,'59 and '60,ending up at the Birdland Club, in New York, in front of a glitterati of celebrities and jazz musicians there to hear the final concert of their tour. One of the greatest moments in Vic’s long career came when he was introduced by Stan Kenton, in 1950, at Carnegie Hall, New York,where he was presented as ‘England’s Stan Kenton’ and invited to conduct the Innovations Orchestra. A few years later he had the added pleasure of playing trombone for a Kenton Orchestra concert at the Alhambra, Paris.

Like many of the other jazz giants Vic encountered, and played with in those early years -Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Stephané Grappelli, Mo Zudekoff (later known as Buddy Morrow), Gerry Mulligan - Stan Kenton became a lifelong friend.
The story goes on and on with the involvement, recording and performance of Vic in concerts in the UK and around the world, most recently with the producing and recording of jazz musicians from the West Coast, including Andy Martin, Christian Jacob and musicians from the UK.

Shearing was not the only great musician to have played in and been nurtured under Vic’s UK band baton. The list reads like a who’s who of every major British jazz personality who would later become leaders of their own bands or groups in their own right.... Kenny Baker, Jimmy Skidmore, Tubby Hayes, Vic Ash, Dudley Moore, and Ronnie Scott. Others, like Ken Throne, a pianist with Vic’s early band, was to go on to become an internationally recognised musical arranger, and the only Britisher to win an Oscar in his category.

Many of these momentous moments in the life of Vic Lewis are captured through the pages and photos in this book. Many of the photographs are unique and have never been published before. They constitute a golden record of 20th century musical imagery. Some of the greatest ever jazz photographers are represented -Bill Claxton, Herman Leonard, as well as historic photographs taken by Vic Lewis himself and numerous contributions from Adrian Korsner- the book's designer and artistic adviser. Stroll into the houses of some of the most famous musical arrangers – Henry Mancini, Shorty Rogers, Johnny Mandel, Nelson Riddle and many more....

144 pages, fully illustrated with over 400 photographs in colour and black and white. (£25)

© Robert Feather 2005 - 2014