D’Vonne Lewis photo by Daniel Sheehan
D’Vonne Lewis: 2016 Earshot Jazz Festival Resident Artist
Over the recent years, D’Vonne Lewis has become one of the most frequently seen and widely respected artists on Seattle’s music scene. Like jazz itself, Lewis’ legacy has a deep history and a brilliant future.
Composer/bandleader/poet/drummer D’Vonne Lewis is the grandson of the “Godfather of Rock and Roll/Soul,” 1950s-1960s Northwest organ legend, Dave Lewis. At 32 years old, D’Vonne is already considered to be the best and most versatile jazz drummer in Seattle. As first-call drummer to many musicians, he gigs with styles ranging from jazz, funk, hip-hop, and rock to Brazilian and African. But it is his impeccable swing and feel that connect him most logically with jazz.
He attended Seattle’s Roosevelt High School and was part of the award-winning jazz band program directed by Scott Brown. As part of what has become Roosevelt’s almost annual invitations to the Essentially Ellington competition at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Lewis received Outstanding Drum Soloist awards for the years 2000, 2001, and 2002. We’re happy to have D’Vonne returning to Roosevelt as a guest clinician and featured artist with the Roosevelt Jazz Band on October 22.
Aside from his work as an in-demand sideman, Lewis works regularly with his own bands: Triplifried, D’Vonne Lewis’ Limited Edition, and the hard-hitting, cutting-edge, 2014/2015 Golden Ear Award- and 2014 Genius Award-winning band, Industrial Revelation, all of whom will appear on this year’s festival.
In 2006, D’Vonne received the Golden Ear Award for Emerging Artist of the Year, and in 2013, received the Golden Ear Award for Instrumentalist of the Year.
Earshot’s John Gilbreath recently connected with D’Vonne to discuss his career, jazz in Seattle, and more.
John Gilbreath: Do you think Seattle is a “Jazz” town?
D’Vonne Lewis: Yes, but honestly I like to think of Seattle as a great town of music in general. Although, I think jazz and swing music definitely was the root of it all. For instance, in the earlier days you had local bands like Ms. Lillian [Smith]’s jazz group and Frank Waldron’s band; Duke Ellington and Count Basie’s big band coming through Seattle and performing at nightclubs and black social gatherings at places such as Washington Hall and other historic venues; Navy jazz bands performing across the water (Bremerton); Jelly Roll Morton was even up this way for a bit. Then you fast-forward to the jazz and jumpin’ music scene on Jackson, Yesler, and Madison streets, where not only Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, and the Holden family played, but my grandfather Dave Lewis, who was a pioneer in performing in “white only” establishments. I always say jazz is life and man, were they living it! So yes, of course Seattle is a jazz town.
JG: How did your formal jazz education at Roosevelt, and informal education on the bandstand, prepare you for the career you’re on?
DL: First off, I’d like to say not only is Scott Brown the best band director ever, but he was a true friend who kept things real and straight up with all of his students. While I was in high school, he stressed the importance of professionalism on and off of the bandstand; keeping our tuxes/suits clean and sharp looking; staying “in the pocket” (time-keeping, a la all-American rhythm section); and just swingin’ hard! I can’t remember everything he has instilled in me and I’m sure all of his ex-students, but I’ve tried to take everything to heart and I still apply those principles in most of my own groups and when I’m performing with other groups or artists.
I’ve always been humbled and learned so much whenever I get/got the chance to perform and learn from not only younger musicians, but the elders like Hadley Caliman, Phil Sparks, Jim Knapp, Julian Priester, Jeff Johnson, and Bucky Pizzarelli, just to name a few. They all possess a wisdom and knowledge that can only be taught on the bandstand. If it’s a great story, a go-to musical trick or lick, how to conduct your business or just hanging out with them, they always taught me something beneficial that I still and always will use on the bandstand. To me, that is the greatest education one can receive: getting thrown into the fire…per se. It’s always a fire that you should learn from, not get burned from.
JG: What drummers did you listen to most?
DL: I try to listen to everyone and learn something from them or about their respective style, but who did I listen to most…? Probably while in high school I listened the most to: Jo Jones, Sonny Payne, Sam Woodyard, Buddy Rich, Philly Joe, Elvin Jones, “young” Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Brian Blade, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Eric Harland, Lewis Nash, Chris Dave, Greg Hutchinson, Billy Kilson, and Herlin Riley to name a very few…and currently I still listen to those guys and more…
JG: Were you aware of the Earshot festival when you were young? Did you plan to be playing on it?
DL: Yes, I heard about the Earshot festival vaguely. I’ve probably played it with someone while in high school or with the high school jazz band, but I probably didn’t realize I was playing at the festival itself. I think one of my first times playing it was either with the Hadley Caliman Quartet or the Larry Fuller Trio. I remember knowing it was a pretty big/sweet deal to play the local jazz festival, but I honestly didn’t think I would ever play it.
JG: In my mind, you’ve been on the vanguard of important changes in Seattle jazz, that seem to have opened up notions of what “jazz” can and cannot be. Can you feel the difference?
DL: Thank you. I definitely believe that there is music a person likes and music a person doesn’t like. It’s all music to me. Some of it makes you dance; some of it makes you prance; some of it makes you snap your finger; some of it makes you think you’re the greatest singer…
I grew up listening to all styles of music, so I’ve never really had a bias against any genre of music. I really enjoy seeing the love and passion that a person puts into any kind of music that they enjoy playing. I like to think I am joyful when playing any style of music. I’ve played with a lot of different people, so I’d like to think whoever I’m playing with that I’ve influenced them in some kind of way musically and vice versa.
JG: What are your personal goals as a jazz musician in Seattle?
DL: I’d like to be the known jazz musician/drummer that isn’t afraid to “get his hands dirty” in all sorts of projects and various styles of music, not only jazz. I’d like to produce more albums and not just my own band’s. I’d also like to play some kind of cool jazz show with the Seattle Symphony performing my songs and my grandfather, Dave Lewis’ music.
JG: What would you like Seattle jazz to look like in 10–20 years?
DL: I’d like for it to be more clubs and venues full of music and late night hangs and places for musicians and other artist gathering-joints and jam sessions. Also, more homecooked/cooking inside the venues, so that everyone’s experience to jazz is heightened with a variety of food. All of Seattle should be a 52nd Street.
JG: Anything else you’d like to say?
DL: I’m very humbled by this opportunity to perform in this great city of music. It’s such a great to city to call home. Earshot has done such a great job in supporting arts in general — what a blessing. I’m so grateful and thankful to the organization for supporting me and all of the other musicians throughout the years. I never want to take that for granted. One love!
Catch D’Vonne In Action At These Festival Events
Saturday, October 22, 7:30pm
Roosevelt High School Auditorium
D’Vonne Lewis Limited Edition / Roosevelt High School Jazz Band w/ D’Vonne Lewis
Monday, October 24, 8pm
SAM (Plestcheeff Auditorium)
Marina Albero Quartet
Saturday, October 29, 8pm
SOUL SPACE: Industrial Revelation / D’Vonne Lewis Triplifried / DJ Riz
Saturday, November 5, 7:30pm
Benaroya Hall, Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall
Sunday, November 6, 2pm
Kirkland Performance Center
Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra presents Miles Ahead: Miles Davis & Gil Evans