Website: Thad Jones
by David Caffey
May 18, 2019
I had the good fortune in the 70s to hear the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra three times live. I remember the first time very well; it was in February 1975. I happened to be in Berkeley for the CBDNA National Convention for a College wind ensemble performance that was happening at that conference, but I read that Thad and Mel were playing at Stanford University, and so I took a bunch of my students – it was my first year of teaching – and I said “I think we need to hear this band.” I will never forget it. I knew that Bob Brookmeyer was there, and I was particularly interested in that, of course, being a trombonist and a valve player myself.
At first time hearing the band I was absolutely knocked out by the music that came from Thad Jones. It was not like anything I had heard. I mean, I heard a couple of tunes on records, but I had not really studied them yet; it changed my life! I remember going then and buying the record that had “Little Pixie” on it, and that was a tune that made me decide that I was going to be not just a composer, but a jazz composer. And you know what I mean, don’t you? It was so incredible, so unique, so wonderful and uplifting!
Thad Jones has affected many jazz composers. He took the big band to a whole other level as a composer and as an arranger – of course, he arranged for many years for the Count Basie Band, and he played in that band. He also was such a great director in front of the band, such a great leader. And with Mel Lewis, they were a team that was unstoppable.
David Caffey is an internationally recognized composer, arranger, conductor, and educator.