Saxophonist and composer James Brandon Lewis has earned a reputation as a rock-solid sideman and soloist among musicians in gospel, R&B, and jazz.
Lewis was born in Buffalo, New York in 1983. Raised in the church -- whose influence upon his spiritual outlook is central -- he was exposed to the aforementioned genres early, and studied music with Carol McLaughlin. He attended the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts. Upon graduation, he continued his studies with Charlie Young at Howard University.
While at Howard, Lewis was able to perform with jazz artists including Geri Allen, Benny Golson, Wallace Roney, and Bill Pierce. He was a member of the Howard University Jazz Ensemble that toured Japan under the direction of Fred Irby, and performed at the Kennedy Center Honors backing John Legend, k.d. lang, and Vanessa Williams.
After graduating from Howard in 2006, Lewis moved to Colorado where he became active in the gospel music community, performing with Albertina Walker and other luminaries. He also performed on the WORD television network and won an award for Best Instrumentalist at Dorinda Clark-Cole's singers and musicians conference in 2007.
After establishing himself as a gospel musician, Lewis sought to expand his musical horizons. He attended CalArts, where he studied with Charlie Haden, Wadada Leo Smith, Vinny Golia, and Alphonso Johnson. He received a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2010. Moments, his debut album as a leader, was independently issued the same year.
Lewis attended the Banf Jazz Residency where he worked with Dave Douglas, Joshua Redman, Hank Roberts, and Tony Malaby. Later that year he was invited to participate in the Atlantic Center for the Arts residency by Matthew Shipp.
Lewis relocated to New York in 2012. He began woodshedding, playing with a host of veteran musicians including Marilyn Crispell, Charles Gayle, Karl Berger, and Eri Yamamoto, to name scant few.
Divine Travels, his sophomore offering, was recorded in 2013. It featured the rhythm section of bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The album was picked up by Sony's resurrected Okeh imprint and released in February of 2014. ~ Thom Jurek