George E. Lewis

Last updated
George E. Lewis
George-lewis 06n4708.jpg
George E. Lewis playing at the Moers Festival in 2009
Background information
Born (1952-07-14) July 14, 1952 (age 70)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Experimental, contemporary classical, avant-garde jazz, computer music
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, professor
Labels Sackville, Charly, Black Saint, Soul Note, Avant, Music & Arts, Pi, Incus, Tzadik

George Emanuel Lewis (born July 14, 1952) is an American composer, performer, and scholar of experimental music. [1] He has been a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, when he joined the organization at the age of 19. [2] He is renowned for his work as an improvising trombonist and considered a pioneer of computer music, which he began pursuing in the late 1970s; in the 1980s he created Voyager, an improvising software he has used in interactive performances. [2] Lewis's many honors include a MacArthur Fellowship [1] and a Guggenheim Fellowship, [3] and his book A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music [4] received the American Book Award. [1] Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music, Composition & Historical Musicology at Columbia University. [5]


Early life

Lewis was born July 14, 1952 in Chicago, Illinois. [6] Lewis's father, George Thomas Lewis, was a postal worker who studied electronics under the GI Bill and had a deep love of jazz music; his mother, Cornelia Griffith Lewis, liked blues, soul, and R&B singers. [6] [4] :281

Lewis began his education at a public elementary school, but he was one of many Black students who could only attend half-days, allegedly to relieve "overcrowding"; this was widely understood to be an excuse to enforce de facto segregation under superintendent Benjamin Willis, whose policies led to the 1963 Chicago Public Schools boycott. [7] [4] :281 An African American teacher convinced Lewis's parents to enroll him at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, where he started classes at age 9. [4] :281 Lewis attended the Lab School from 1961 until his graduation in 1969. [8]

His parents wanted him to learn an instrument as a way to make friends, and Lewis chose the trombone, which was paid for in monthly installments. [4] :281 He played in the school orchestra and concert band, took private lessons from University of Chicago graduate students, and as a teenager joined the school's new jazz band, run by jazz historian Frank Tirro (then working on his PhD) and Dean Hey. [4] :282 In the late 1960s, classmate Ray Anderson took Lewis to hear Fred Anderson at an AACM concert, and Lewis first heard the Art Ensemble of Chicago at another concert on his high school campus. [4] :282

Education and joining the AACM

Lewis was accepted to Yale University in 1969, and at age 17 began his studies in prelaw. [4] :282 He also took music theory classes and met a number of artists in the community, but began to lose interest in school after his sophomore year and decided to take a break. [4] :283

In 1971, during his time off in Chicago, Lewis heard some musicians practicing together near his parents' house; he introduced himself, and met Muhal Richard Abrams, John Shenoy Jackson, Steve Galloway, and Pete Cosey. [4] :283 Lewis was invited to check out a show at the Pumpkin Room, but misunderstood the invitation and brought his trombone; they let him play anyway, as part of a group that also included Joseph Jarman, Kalaparusha, and Steve McCall. [4] :284 Lewis worried about his performance, but McCall invited him to play another concert; at rehearsal, he was introduced to Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors, Sabu Toyozumi, Aaron Dodd, and Douglas Ewart. [4] :285 Lewis became more involved with the AACM, and Jackson encouraged him to apply to join the group. After his acceptance, Lewis was voted reading secretary and began taking minutes at weekly meetings. [4] :285 Lewis regularly played late gigs with the Muhal Richard Abrams Big Band during his year off, and in the daytime held a United Steelworkers union job at Illinois Slag and Ballast Company. [4] :303

Lewis returned to Yale in 1972, just as the university began its Duke Ellington Fellowship Program; artists brought to campus during Lewis's remaining years included Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, William Warfield, Papa Jo Jones, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Marion Williams, Tony Williams, and Slam Stewart. [4] :303 Lewis met many more musicians among Yale's students, faculty, and others living near New Haven such as Wadada Leo Smith, who began visiting Lewis early in the morning before his classes. [4] :304

Lewis graduated from Yale in 1974 with a degree in philosophy. [8]


George E. Lewis in 2006. George Lewis.JPG
George E. Lewis in 2006.

In 1976, Lewis released Solo Trombone Record to great acclaim. [9]

Lewis has long been active in creating and performing with interactive computer systems, most notably his software Voyager, which "listens" and reacts to live performers. [2]

Lewis has recorded or performed with Anthony Braxton, Anthony Davis, Bertram Turetzky, Conny Bauer, Count Basie, David Behrman, David Murray, Derek Bailey, Douglas Ewart, Alfred Harth, Evan Parker, Fred Anderson, Frederic Rzewski, Gil Evans, Han Bennink, Irène Schweizer, J. D. Parran, James Newton, Joel Ryan, Joëlle Léandre, John Zorn, Karl E. H. Seigfried, Laurie Anderson, Leroy Jenkins, Marina Rosenfeld, Michel Portal, Misha Mengelberg, Miya Masaoka, Muhal Richard Abrams, Nicole Mitchell, Richard Teitelbaum, Roscoe Mitchell, Sam Rivers, Steve Lacy, and Wadada Leo Smith, as well as Frederic Rzewski and Alvin Curran's Musica Elettronica Viva [10] and the Globe Unity Orchestra [5] and the ICP Orchestra (Instant Composer's Pool). [11]

In the 1980s, Lewis succeeded Rhys Chatham as the music director of The Kitchen. [12]

From 1988-1990, Lewis collaborated with video artist Don Ritter to create performances of interactive music and interactive video controlled by Lewis's improvised trombone. [13]

In 1992, Lewis collaborated with Canadian artist Stan Douglas on the video installation Hors-champs, featuring Lewis in an improvisation of Albert Ayler's "Spirits Rejoice" with musicians Douglas Ewart, Kent Carter and Oliver Johnson; the installation was featured at documenta 9 in Kassel, Germany. [14]

Since 2004, he has served as Edward H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University in New York City. [5] He previously taught at the University of California, San Diego. [15]

Lewis is featured extensively in Unyazi of the Bushveld (2005), directed by Aryan Kaganof, [16] a documentary about the first symposium of electronic music held in Africa. [17] Lewis gave an invited keynote lecture and performance at NIME-06, the sixth international conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, which was held at IRCAM, Paris, in June 2006. [18]

His work "Morning Blues for Yvan" was featured on the compilation album Crosstalk: American Speech Music (Bridge Records), produced by Mendi + Keith Obadike.

In 2008, Lewis published a book-length history of the AACM titled A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press). [19] Lewis later wrote an opera based on the book, titling it Afterword: The AACM (as) Opera; the work premiered at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2015. [20]

In April 2022, the International Contemporary Ensemble announced the appointment of Lewis as its next artistic director, effective April 2022. [21]

Honors and awards

In 2002, Lewis received a MacArthur Fellowship. [1] His many honors also include a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), [3] a United States Artists Fellowship (2011), the Alpert Award in the Arts (1999), and the American Musicological Society's Music in American Culture Award in 2009. [5] He became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy in 2016, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2018. Lewis has received four honorary degrees: Doctor of Music from the University of Edinburgh in 2015, Doctor of Humane Letters from New College of Florida in 2017, Doctor of Music from Harvard University in 2018, and Doctor of Music from the University of Pennsylvania in 2022. [22] [23]

His monograph A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music received the 2009 American Book Award. [1]


As sole leader

ReleasedAlbum TitleLabelPersonnelRec.
1976Solo Trombone Record Sackville Lewis (trombone) [24] 1976
1978Monads-Triple Slow Mix-Cycle-Shadowgraph, 5 (Sextet) Black Saint Lewis (alto and tenor trombones, sousaphone, Moog synthesizer, sound-tube), Anthony Davis, Douglas Ewart, Leroy Jenkins, Roscoe Mitchell, Adbul Wadud, Muhal Richard Abrams [25] [26] 1977
1979 Homage to Charles Parker Black SaintLewis (trombone, electronics), Ewart, Davis, Richard Teitelbaum [26] 1979
1981Chicago Slow DanceLovelyLewis (electronics, trombones), Ewart, J.D. Parran, Teitelbaum [27] 1977
1993Voyager Avant Lewis (trombone, computer, compositions), Roscoe Mitchell [28] 1993
1993Changing With the Times New World Lewis (trombone), Daniel Koppelman, Ruth Neville, Jerome Rothenberg, Ewart, Jeannie Cheatham, Bernard Mixon, Peter Gonzales III, Mary Oliver, Quincy Troupe [29] 1993
2000Endless Shout Tzadik Lewis (computer, conductor, trombone), Sarah Cahill, Steven Schick, Quincy Troupe, and the NOW Orchestra [30] [31] 1995-1997
2001The Shadowgraph Series: Compositions for Creative Orchestra Spool Lewis (trombone, conductor, compositions) / The NOW Orchestra [32] 1999
2006Sequel (For Lester Bowie)IntaktLewis (trombone, laptop, Buchla Lightning, compositions), Siegfried Rössert, Guillermo E. Brown, Jeff Parker, Kaffe Matthews, Miya Masaoka, DJ Mutamassik [33] 2004
2011George Lewis: Les Exercices SpirituelsTzadikLewis (compositions, live electronic processing, live electronics and spatialization performance) with large ensembles (Ensemble Erik Satie, Wet Ink, Vancouver Olympiad) [34] [35] 2008-2010
2020Rainbow Family (1984)CarrierLewis (computer programming, hardware hacking), Ewart, Joëlle Léandre, Derek Bailey, Steve Lacy [36] 1984
2021The Recombinant TrilogyNew FocusWorks for solo instrument and electronics: Claire Chase & Levy Lorenzo, Seth Parker Woods, Dana Jessen & Eli Stine, software by Damon Holzborn [37] 2016-2020

As co-leader

Organized by year of release; year(s) of recording noted if known to be earlier.

As sideman

Organized by year of release; year(s) of recording noted if known to be earlier.

With Muhal Richard Abrams

With Anthony Braxton

With Anthony Davis

With Gil Evans

With Globe Unity Orchestra

With ICP Orchestra

With Steve Lacy

With Roscoe Mitchell

With David Murray

With Richard Teitelbaum

With others


Solo and chamber music



Interactive computer music

Music Theatre

Creative orchestra

Graphic and instructional scores

Books and articles


Edited collections

Articles and book chapters

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Muhal Richard Abrams</span> American jazz musician and educator

Muhal Richard Abrams was an American educator, administrator, composer, arranger, clarinetist, cellist, and jazz pianist in the free jazz medium. He recorded and toured the United States, Canada and Europe with his orchestra, sextet, quartet, duo and as a solo pianist. His musical affiliations constitute a "who's who" of the jazz world, including Max Roach, Dexter Gordon, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Art Farmer, Sonny Stitt, Anthony Braxton, and The Art Ensemble of Chicago.

The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is a nonprofit organization, founded in 1965 in Chicago by pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and composer Phil Cohran. The AACM is devoted "to nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music," according to its charter. It supports and encourages jazz performers, composers and educators. Although founded in the jazz tradition, the group's outreach and influence has, according to Larry Blumenfeld, "touched nearly all corners of modern music."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roscoe Mitchell</span> American composer, jazz musician, and educator

Roscoe Mitchell is an American composer, jazz instrumentalist, and educator, known for being "a technically superb – if idiosyncratic – saxophonist". The Penguin Guide to Jazz described him as "one of the key figures" in avant-garde jazz; All About Jazz stated in 2004 that he had been "at the forefront of modern music" for more than 35 years. Critic Jon Pareles in The New York Times has mentioned that Mitchell "qualifies as an iconoclast". In addition to his own work as a bandleader, Mitchell is known for cofounding the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wadada Leo Smith</span> American trumpeter and composer

Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith is an American trumpeter and composer, working primarily in the fields of avant-garde jazz and free improvisation. He was one of three finalists for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music for Ten Freedom Summers, released on May 22, 2012.

Richard Lowe Teitelbaum was an American composer, keyboardist, and improvisor. A student of Allen Forte, Mel Powell, and Luigi Nono, he was known for his live electronic music and synthesizer performances. He was a pioneer of brain-wave music. He was also involved with world music and used Japanese, Indian, and western classical instruments and notation in both composition and improvisational settings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leroy Jenkins (musician)</span> American composer and violinist (1932–2007)

Leroy Jenkins was an American composer and violinist/violist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carlos Zingaro</span> Portuguese violinist and electronic musician

Carlos Zíngaro is a Portuguese violinist and electronic musician active in free improvisation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marty Ehrlich</span> Musical artist

Marty Ehrlich is a multi-instrumentalist and is considered one of the leading figures in avant-garde jazz.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fred Anderson (musician)</span> American jazz saxophonist

Fred Anderson was an American jazz tenor saxophonist who was based in Chicago, Illinois. Anderson's playing was rooted in the swing music and hard bop idioms, but he also incorporated innovations from free jazz. Anderson was also noted for having mentored numerous young musicians. Critic Ben Ratliff called him "a father figure of experimental jazz in Chicago". Writer John Corbett referred to him as "scene caretaker, underground booster, indefatigable cultural worker, quiet force for good." In 2001, author John Litweiler called Anderson "the finest tenor saxophonist in free jazz/underground jazz/outside jazz today."

Fred Hopkins was an American double bassist who played a major role in the development of the avant-garde jazz movement. He was best known for his association with the trio Air with Henry Threadgill and Steve McCall, and for his numerous performances and extensive recordings with major jazz musicians such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Arthur Blythe, Oliver Lake, and David Murray. He was a member of the AACM, and a frequent participant in the loft jazz scene of the 1970s. He also co-led a number of albums with the composer and cellist Diedre Murray. Gary Giddins wrote that Hopkins' playing "fused audacious power with mercuric reflexes." Howard Reich, writing in the Chicago Tribune, stated that "many connoisseurs considered [Hopkins] the most accomplished jazz bassist of his generation" and praised him for "the extraordinarily fluid technique, sumptuous tone and innovative methods he brought to his instrument."

Douglas R. Ewart is a Jamaican multi-instrumentalist and instrument builder. He plays sopranino and alto saxophones, clarinets, bassoon, flute, bamboo flutes, and didgeridoo; as well as Rastafarian hand drums.

Edward L. Wilkerson Jr. is an internationally recognized American jazz composer, arranger, musician, and educator based in Chicago. As founder and director of the cutting-edge octet 8 Bold Souls, and the 25-member performance ensemble Shadow Vignettes, Wilkerson has toured festivals and concert halls throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, and the Middle East. "Defender", a large-scale piece for Shadow Vignettes, was commissioned by the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund and featured in the 10th Anniversary of New Music America, a presentation of BAM's Next Wave Festival.

Discography for jazz saxophonist Anthony Braxton.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Malachi Favors</span> American jazz bassist

Malachi Favors was an American jazz bassist who played with the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thurman Barker</span> American jazz drummer

Thurman Barker is an American jazz drummer.

Steve McCall was an American jazz drummer.

Nicole Mitchell is an American jazz flautist and composer who teaches jazz at the University of Virginia. She is a former chairwoman of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

Phillip Sanford Wilson was an American blues and jazz drummer, a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tomeka Reid</span> American jazz musician

Tomeka Reid is an American composer, improviser, cellist, curator, and teacher.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ann E. Ward</span> Musical artist

Ann E. Ward was an improviser, composer and educator, and a long-serving member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). A native of Chicago who studied music from a young age, she attended Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University, studying piano, and graduated from Kentucky State College with a degree in music composition. After performing as a vocalist with the Ken Chaney Experience, she joined the AACM in 1981, eventually becoming an integral part of the organization. Ward was one of the most noted female composers in the AACM, and performed with many ensembles such as the Great Black Music Ensemble and Samana as a vocalist, pianist and African percussionist. She served as the director of the AACM School from 1983 to 2008, volunteering her time to take an active role in music education. Ward died in 2016 at age 67.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "George E. Lewis". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  2. 1 2 3 Schinto, Jeanne (19 April 2001). "George Lewis, 20th Century musician at UCSD". San Diego Reader. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  3. 1 2 "George E. Lewis". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Lewis, George E. (2008). A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. University of Chicago Press. ISBN   9780226477039.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "George E. Lewis". The Department of Music at Columbia University. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  6. 1 2 Wriggle, John (2013). "Lewis, George". Oxford African American Studies Center. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195301731.013.37354 . Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  7. Strauss, Valerie (22 October 2013). "Fifty years ago today, the school boycott that rocked Chicago". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  8. 1 2 "George E. Lewis". The HistoryMakers. 24 October 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  9. Palmer, Robert (2 October 1977). "The New Intimacy Of Solo Jazz". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  10. Robin, William (27 June 2021). "Frederic Rzewski, Politically Committed Composer and Pianist, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  11. Layne, Joslyn. "ICP Orchestra". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-10-03.
  12. Hunter, Trevor (2010-06-01). "George E. Lewis—The Story's Being Told". Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  13. "Don Ritter Biography". Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  14. Gale, Peggy (1996). ""Stan Douglas: Evening and others."". In Gale, Peggy; Steele, Lisa (eds.). VIDEO Re/VIEW: The (best) Source for Critical Writings on Canadian Artists' Video. Toronto: Art Metropole. p. 363. ISBN   0920956378. OCLC   35330872.
  15. Sutro, Dirk (2015-04-30). "UC San Diego Composer Rand Steiger Wins 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship". UC San Diego News Center. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  16. Lewis, George E. "Recharging Unyazi 2005". Herri. Africa Open Institute. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  17. "UNYAZI Electronic Music Symposium and Festival 2005". Art Africa Magazine. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  18. "NIME 06 Session Program". NIME. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  19. Chinen, Nate (2 May 2008). "A New Book Assesses the Four-Decade Legacy of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  20. Gottschalk, Kurt. "The Creative Constructions of George Lewis". Musicworks. Retrieved 7 February 2023.
  21. Javier C. Hernández (2022-04-08). "Outspoken Composer to Lead International Contemporary Ensemble". The New York Times. Retrieved 2022-04-18.
  22. "Harvard awards seven honorary degrees". May 24, 2018.
  23. "Penn's 2022 Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients" . Retrieved 2022-05-30.
  24. Margasak, Peter (30 October 2015). "The daring debut album of AACM historian George Lewis gets reissued". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  25. Swed, Mark (19 August 2020). "Why George Lewis' revolutionary 'Shadowgraph, 5' can last 3 minutes or 4 hours". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  26. 1 2 Scaruffi, Piero. "George Lewis". Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  27. Rockwell, John (1 March 1981). "The African Influence on Pop and Jazz Musicians". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  28. Steinbeck, Paul. "Listening to Voyager" (PDF). Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  29. "George Lewis: Changing With the Times". DRAM. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  30. "George Lewis: Endless Shout". Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  31. "George Lewis : Endless Shout". Tzadik. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  32. "The Shadowgraph Series: Compositions for Creative Orchestra". NOW Society. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  33. "Sequel (For Lester Bowie)". All About Jazz. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  34. Banfield, William C. (November 2012). "George Lewis, Les Exercices Spirituels. Tzadik Records TZA 8081CD, 2011". Journal of the Society for American Music. 6 (4): 493–494. doi:10.1017/S1752196312000405 . Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  35. "George Lewis : Les Exercices Spirituels". Tzadik. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  36. Broomer, Stuart (5 February 2021). "Atelier George Lewis: Rainbow Family 1984 - George Lewis; Joëlle Léandre; Derek Bailey; Steve Lacy". The WholeNote. Retrieved 7 February 2023.
  37. DeGroot, Jillian (22 February 2021). "George Lewis' The Recombinant Trilogy Reimagines the Boundaries of Experimental Music". I Care If You Listen. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  38. "George Lewis: Album Discography". AllMusic . Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  39. "Joëlle Léandre / Pauline Oliveros / George Lewis - Play As You Go (Trost, 2021) *****". Free Jazz Collective. 13 September 2021. Retrieved 7 February 2023.
  40. Scott Yanow. "Live at the Public Theater in New York, Vol. 1 - Gil Evans | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic . Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  41. Tim Ashley (2021-08-27). "BBCSSO/Volkov review – brisk and beautiful Beethoven but Lewis premiere is hard to like". The Guardian. Retrieved 2022-04-18.