The world-famous NIU Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Ron Carter, will perform with guest drummer Victor Lewis at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 12, in the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the Holmes Student Center.
The concert is free, but ticketed, and the Holmes Student Center is accessible to all. Advance tickets can be reserved by calling the School of Music at (815) 53-1551; tickets will be available at the door.
Lewis, an internationally acclaimed drummer and composer, started studying music when at the age of 10. He began on the cello because he was too small for the acoustic bass, but switched to the drums about 18 months later after watching the local drum corps marching on the Fourth of July and other holidays.
He also studied classical piano, which is when he learned how to read music.
Lewis began playing drums professionally on the local scene at the age of 15. Because few of the older drummers in Omaha could read music, the young percussionist was called up for a variety of commercial jobs, including jingles, the Bob Hope Show and even the circus.
At first, his style reflected his attraction to the big band drummers he had seen with his father and heard on records, but things changed fter hearing a record of Miles Davis’ Quintet with Tony Williams. He began exploring Williams’ sound and the styles of other great small group drummers such as Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones. It wasn’t long before he started his own small group to play around town.
On Lewis’ first gig in Manhattan, a night at Boomer’s with bassist Buster Williams’ group, he met trumpeter Woody Shaw. He joined the trumpeter’s band and, a few months later, made his recording debut on Shaw’s classic, “The Moontrane.”
In 1980, Lewis left Shaw’s group to join another tenor giant, Stan Getz, beginning an association that would last up until the saxophonist’s death in 1991. He made many recordings with Getz, including videos of the group’s performances at the Paul Masson Vineyards and the Robert Mondavi Vineyards. It was Getz who first recorded his composition, “I Wanted To Say.”
By the end of the ’80s, Lewis was one of jazz’s busiest freelancers; he has been the mainstay in the Kenny Barron Quintet since its inception.
An educated drummer, Lewis tries to pass on his knowledge, giving private instruction to students, participating as a freelance instructor with The New School University Jazz School-Mannes Music School Jazz Program in New York City and appearing in drum clinics around the world as often as his schedule allows it. He has participated in a symposium in Modern Drummer magazine, and there have been several feature articles about him in publications such as Downbeat, The Wire, Jazz Times as well as Modern Drummer.
In 2003, he joined the faculty of Rutgers University, where he teaches drummers and coaches jazz combos.
The NIU Jazz Ensemble continues to gain high critical acclaim.
Since June of 1998, the Jazz Studies Program at NIU has been rated as one of the top 10 graduate jazz programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, the NIU Jazz Studies has won significant recognition from Downbeat Magazine’s Student Recognition Awards, capturing more than 10 Outstanding Performance Awards.
Jazz bands from NIU have received Outstanding Performance Awards at several major jazz festivals, including the prestigious Notre Dame, Elmhurst and Eau Claire Collegiate Jazz Festivals. The Liberace Graduate Jazz Combo already has received international acclaim performing at the IAJE Conference in Toronto, Canada, the JVC Jazz Festival in New York and the Lima Peru Jazz Festival in Lima, Peru.