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Webster Lewis

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Early sideman appearances by this keyboardist, composer, and arranger indicated potential on the modern jazz scene, Webster Lewis taking over from Larry Young in the progressive jazz Tony Williams' Lifetime band as well as joining the dissonant mass of multi-keyboard lineups on projects by George Russell, Bill Evans, and the Piano Choir. Lewis possessed a master's degree from the New England Conservatory of Music, where he was mentored by modernist and jazz historian Gunther Schuller. Nonetheless, the most enduring legacy of Lewis are disco recordings he began creating in 1976 when contracted by Epic. Critics and purists spat out the resulting fare, not owning a crystal ball that would allow them to see the fervor with which these types of concoctions would be chewed on once they had become so-called rare grooves. "On the Town," title track of Lewis' 1976 Epic debut, and a portrait of "Barbara Ann" unrelated to the Beach Boys are examples of Lewis' hits from the second half of the '70s. Working in the background turned out to be the main career meat for Lewis, whether it meant composing soundtrack themes or working as a musical director for fellow keyboard mangler Herbie Hancock and deep-voiced soul man Barry White. He also organized recording sessions and concert appearances for Michael Jackson and Tom Jones. Live at Club 7 was Lewis' first solo release in 1971, including a groovy version of an Isley Brothers tune and prompting a move to Los Angeles by the middle of the decade. Hancock himself showed up as co-producer for Lewis' third Epic side, Eight for the Eighties. An appreciative hit entitled "The Love You Give to Me" resulted, Lewis continuing to score with the disco audience over the next few years with tracks such as the tricky "El Bobo." Lewis subsequently produced albums for Gwen McCrae and Michael Wycoff, going from there into television commercial and film soundtrack music. His film credits -- The Hearse, The Sky Is Grey -- give the indication that this was the man to call if the subject was grim, in contrast to the happy party feel of his solo albums. Lewis died from complications resulting from diabetes. ~ Eugene Chadbourne


01 September 1943 in Baltimore, MD

Years Active:

'70s, '80s