Thad Jones - Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra Live in TV Studio. In 1965 Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis formed The Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra. The group initially began with informal late-night jam sessions among New York's top studio musicians. The group eventually began performing at the Village Vanguard in February, 1966, to wide acclaim, and continued with Jones in the lead for twelve years. They won a 1978 Grammy Award for their album Live in Munich. Jones also taught at William Paterson College in New Jersey, which is now the site of the Thad Jones Archive, containing pencil scores and vintage photos as part of the Living Jazz Archives.
Jones' big-band arranging style was unique, especially from the standpoint of featuring dissonant voicings in a tonal context. This required the members of his big band to play correctly in tune, otherwise the dense chords he wrote would not sound correct. Minor 2nds and major 7ths are often featured in his voicings, especially when the entire band plays a long, powerful chord that some would describe as having "bite".
The orchestra started out as a group of all-star studio musicians getting together for midnight practice sessions at any place within walking distance from Jim and Andy's, a bar frequented by New York musicians. They eventually debuted at the Village Vanguard in New York in 1966, and were quickly noticed by jazz insiders for their originality and virtuoso skills.
The band had its own unique style, and tradition along the lines of big band swing, Bebop and Hard Bop. The sound was powerful, fast, intellectual and fun to listen to. Their pieces required a high degree of skill to play. Thad Jones, a trumpeter who toured (and wrote) for the Count Basie Orchestra during the 1950s, led the group, was its main arranger, and was occasionally featured, most often on flugelhorn. Mel Lewis, co-leader, produced a drum style with the band that was unique for big bands. The extent in which he was able to incorporate the loose, open approach of small group playing was a major innovation. His cymbal work added a texture and richness that is one of the hallmarks of the band. Every big band drummer after Lewis has been influenced by him to some degree.