Lew Tabackin: The Evolution of a Jazz Artist

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I first heard Lew Tabackin play on an album called Introducing Duke Pearson’s Big Band, released in 1967. Lew took an extended tenor solo on “New Girl” that remains to this day one of my favorite sax solos within the context of a big band. Since that experience, I have purchased many albums with Lew as a sideman and as a leader and have never been disappointed. Lew is a virtuoso saxophonist and flutist who continues to probe the possibilities of varied expressions on both instruments. He is also deeply committed to preserving the musical identities of some of the greatest tenor players in history—Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Don Byas, Al Cohn, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. He has absorbed elements of their playing into his own unique voice and style. On the flute, he displays the same type of reverence for many of the classical giants he has heard and studied (William Kincaid, Jean-Pierre Rampal, and Julius Baker) and found a way to make use of their concepts for tone and resonance within a jazz context. I experienced another side of Lew when he and Toshiko were the featured guests a number of years ago with the university big band that I directed. They proved to be exceptional music educators, working diligently and offering encouragement to the students during the rehearsals while still demanding the standards of professionalism that the music industry mandates. Lew has also been involved with the Jazz Foundation of America for many years, helping elderly jazz musicians in need of support. He remains the consummate musician, always looking to play and stimulating those around him by his passion for music. I think you’ll hear that same degree of commitment and love for music expressed in our interview. Please visit Lew’s website at: www.lewtabackin.com for more information.

About the Artist: Lew’s interest in music began in his birthplace, Philadelphia, where he first studied flute and then tenor saxophone in high school. He majored in flute at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music (B.M. 1962) and studied privately with composer Vincent Persichetti. In 1965 he moved to the New York area. He initially played with Tal Farlow and Don Friedman and later in the big bands led by Cab Calloway, Les and Larry Elgart, Maynard Ferguson, Joe Henderson, Chuck Israels, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, Clark Terry, and Duke Pearson. In those early years he also worked with Donald Byrd, Roland Hanna, Elvin Jones, Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band, and the studio band for Dick Cavett’s television show. He moved to Los Angeles in 1972 with The Tonight Show. While in L.A., he and his wife, jazz pianist/composer/arranger Toshiko Akiyoshi, formed the award-winning big band known as the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra. Mr. Tabackin played with Shelley Manne and trios of his own with Billy Higgins, John Heard, and Charlie Haden while touring Japan frequently with Ms. Akiyoshi during this period. In 1982, Mr. Tabackin and Ms. Akiyoshi moved back to New York, where they maintained their Jazz Orchestra until 2003. Lew continues to solidify his position as a major tenor saxophone and flute artist, both in live concerts and on recordings. He has now recorded over 30 albums as a leader or co-leader and has an extensive discography as a sideman as well. He has won many Down Beat Critics and Readers polls for his recordings as well as instrumental performances. At 76 years young, he still tours the world as a soloist, playing clubs and jazz festivals.


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