HOLLYWOOD—When remembering what Miles Davis said about Jazz pianist John Lewis, I decided to go back to listen to some of his old recordings.  That decision was quite revealing about this musician, John is definitely an American gift. When discussing his life and music, he quickly gets to the chase and tells you how he feels about anything and everything.

MSJ: John, what kind of town did you grow up in and how did it affect what you decided to do in life?

JL:  I grew up in Morton, a small town about nine miles out of Philadelphia. It was close enough to the cities which were magnets to the most creative people of the world i.e., Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong – Hey, I could go on for hours.  When there was a concert, in Philly or Chester I would be one of the first to buy a first row ticket. Then too, I had an aunt (Thelma) who played the trumpet in the first all-girl Afro-American band during the 1940s. When she’d pick up her trumpet and play, it was something real inspiring. I liked the sound, the emotion the music engendered, it took you to another place, especially during that period.

MSJ: That kind of emotion you experienced very young, is this why you were drawn to the piano?

JL: I suppose so. After all when watching guys like Duke Ellington or Alec Templeton play, you fantasize doing the same thing. Those dudes produced music magic and I dreamed of following in their footsteps. I noticed how people reacted watching them perform. They were transformed, taken on another kind of trip. A very positive, life changing one, you know. I was fascinated and decided I had to try and do the same.

MSJ: What singers were you impressed with during your earlier years?

JL: Oh, that’s easy!  I loved Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Ruth Brown, and Billie Holliday; they used their voices as a paint brush of life and the colors they produced took you to the center of your soul! This is what makes an artist when you’re transported to another level or dimension of life and you feel life is worth all the ups and downs that you are subject to every moment. Every time I listened to Billie, it was a master class in survival and made me more determined to make the most of who I was as a human being.

MSJ: What bothers you most about life and all of its challenges?

JL: I can’t stand dumb people who only live to eat, sleep have sex and die! Life should be a whirlwind doing exciting things, discovering and exploring every inch of who you are.  Having a purpose is vital to longevity, it keeps the human tank full to continue the journey.

MSJ: Are you happy about how JOHN LEWIS turned out today?

JL: Oh, there is always room for improvement; nobody’s perfect and that’s a fact.  You gotta have a reason to get up in the morning and find things to improve. Life is really discovery and when you face that kind of reality then you suddenly realize why you’re here.

By Michael St. John