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George E. Lewis

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George E. Lewis
George E. Lewis playing at the Moers Festival in 2009
George E. Lewis playing at the Moers Festival in 2009
Background information
Born (1952-07-14) July 14, 1952 (age 71)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
GenresExperimental, contemporary classical, avant-garde jazz, computer music
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, professor
LabelsSackville, 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[edit]

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[edit]

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.

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, circa 2003

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[edit]

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[edit]

Released Album Title Label Personnel Rec.
1976 Solo Trombone Record Sackville Lewis (trombone)[24] 1976
1978 Monads-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 Saint Lewis (trombone, electronics), Ewart, Davis, Richard Teitelbaum[26] 1979
1981 Chicago Slow Dance Lovely Lewis (electronics, trombones), Ewart, J.D. Parran, Teitelbaum[27] 1977
1993 Voyager Avant Lewis (trombone, computer, compositions), Roscoe Mitchell[28] 1993
1993 Changing 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
2000 Endless Shout Tzadik Lewis (computer, conductor, trombone), Sarah Cahill, Steven Schick, Quincy Troupe, and the NOW Orchestra[30][31] 1995–1997
2001 The Shadowgraph Series: Compositions for Creative Orchestra Spool Lewis (trombone, conductor, compositions) / The NOW Orchestra[32] 1999
2006 Sequel (For Lester Bowie) Intakt Lewis (trombone, laptop, Buchla Lightning, compositions), Siegfried Rössert, Guillermo E. Brown, Jeff Parker, Kaffe Matthews, Miya Masaoka, DJ Mutamassik[33] 2004
2011 George Lewis: Les Exercices Spirituels Tzadik Lewis (compositions, live electronic processing, live electronics and spatialization performance) with large ensembles (Ensemble Erik Satie, Wet Ink, Vancouver Olympiad)[34][35] 2008–2010
2020 Rainbow Family (1984) Carrier Lewis (computer programming, hardware hacking), Ewart, Joëlle Léandre, Derek Bailey, Steve Lacy[36] 1984
2021 The Recombinant Trilogy New Focus Works 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[edit]

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

As sideman[edit]

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

  • 1993: 20th Anniversary (FMP; recorded 1986)
  • 2007: Globe Unity – 40 Years (Intakt)

With ICP Orchestra

  • 1986: Bospaadje Konijnehol I
  • 1986: ICP Plays Monk

With Steve Lacy

  • 1983: Prospectus (hat ART; recorded in 1982; rereleased in 1999 as Cliches)
  • 1985: Futurities (hat Hut)
  • 2001: The Beat Suite (Sunnyside)
  • 2004: Last Tour (Emanem)

With Roscoe Mitchell

With David Murray

  • 1980: Ming (Black Saint)
  • 1982: Home (Black Saint; recorded 1981)

With Richard Teitelbaum

  • 1988: Concerto Grosso (hat Hut)
  • 1993: Cyberband (Moers)
  • 1995: Golem (Tzadik)

With others


Solo and chamber music

  • "Toneburst" (1976) for three trombones
  • "Endless Shout" (1994), for piano
  • "Collage" (1995), for poet and chamber orchestra, with text by Quincy Troupe
  • "Ring Shout Ramble" (1998), for saxophone quartet
  • "Signifying Riffs" (1998), for string quartet and percussion
  • "Dancing in the Palace" (2009), for tenor voice and viola, with text by Donald Hall
  • "Ikons" (2010), for octet
  • "The Will To Adorn" (2011), for large chamber ensemble
  • "Thistledown" (2012), for quartet
  • "Float, Sting" (2018), for sextet


  • "Atlantic" (1978), for amplified trombones with resonant filters
  • "Nightmare At The Best Western" (1992), for baritone voice and six instruments
  • "Virtual Discourse" (1993), composition for infrared-controlled "virtual percussion" and four percussionists
  • "North Star Boogaloo" (1996), for percussionist and computer, with text by Quincy Troupe
  • "Crazy Quilt" (2002), for infrared-controlled "virtual percussion" and four percussionists
  • "Hello Mary Lou" (2007) for chamber ensemble and live electronics
  • "Sour Mash" (2009), composition for vinyl turntablists, with Marina Rosenfeld
  • "Les Exercices Spirituels" (2010) for eight instruments and computer sound spatialization
  • "Anthem" (2011), for chamber ensemble with electronics


  • "Mbirascope/Algorithme et kalimba" (1985), interactive mbira-driven audiovisual installation, with David Behrman
  • "A Map of the Known World" (1987), interactive mbira-driven audiovisual installation, with David Behrman
  • "Rio Negro" (1992), robotic-acoustic sound-sculpture installation, with Douglas Ewart
  • "Information Station No. 1" (2000), multi-screen videosonic interactive installation for the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, San Diego, Calif.
  • "Rio Negro II" (2007), robotic-acoustic sound installation, with Douglas Ewart and Douglas Irving Repetto.
  • "Travelogue" (2009), sound installation
  • "Ikons" (2010), interactive sound sculpture, with Eric Metcalfe

Interactive computer music

  • "The KIM and I" (1979), for micro-computer and improvising musician
  • "Chamber Music for Humans and Non-Humans" (1980), for micro-computer and improvising musician
  • "Rainbow Family" (1984), for soloists with multiple interactive computer systems
  • "Voyager" (1987), for improvising soloist and interactive “virtual orchestra"
  • "Virtual Concerto" (2004), for improvising computer piano soloist and orchestra
  • "Interactive Trio" (2007), for interactive computer-driven piano, human pianist, and additional instrumentalist
  • "Interactive Duo" (2007), for interactive computer-driven piano and human instrumentalist

Music Theatre

  • "The Empty Chair" (1986), computer-driven videosonic music theatre work
  • "Changing With The Times" (1991), radiophonic/music theatre work

Creative orchestra

  • "The Shadowgraph Series, 1-5" (1975–77)
  • "Hello and Goodbye" (1976/2000)
  • "Angry Bird" (2007)
  • "Fractals" (2007)
  • "Shuffle" (2007)
  • "The Chicken Skin II" (2007)
  • "Something Like Fred" (2009)
  • "Triangle" (2009)
  • Minds in Flux (2021)[41]

Graphic and instructional scores

  • "Monads" (1977), graphic score for any instrumentation
  • "The Imaginary Suite" (1977), two movements for tape, live electronics, and instruments
  • "Chicago Slow Dance" (1977), for electro-acoustic ensemble
  • "Blues" (1979), graphic score for four instruments
  • "Homage to Charles Parker" (1979), for improvisors and electronics
  • "Sequel" (2004), for eight electro-acoustic performers
  • "Artificial Life 2007" (2007), composition for improvisors with open instrumentation

Books and articles[edit]


  • Lewis, George E. (2008). A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226477039.

Edited collections[edit]

Articles and book chapters[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "George E. Lewis". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  2. ^ a b c Schinto, Jeanne (19 April 2001). "George Lewis, 20th Century musician at UCSD". San Diego Reader. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  3. ^ a b "George E. Lewis". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Lewis, George E. (2008). A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226477039.
  5. ^ a b c d "George E. Lewis". The Department of Music at Columbia University. 22 April 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  6. ^ a b Wriggle, John (2013). "Lewis, George". Oxford African American Studies Center. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195301731.013.37354. ISBN 978-0-19-530173-1. 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. ^ a b "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". NewMusicBox.org. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  13. ^ "Don Ritter Biography". Aesthetic-machinery.com. 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. December 2005. 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". News.harvard.edu. 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. ^ a b Scaruffi, Piero. "George Lewis". Scaruffi.com. 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). PaulSteinbeck.com. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  29. ^ "George Lewis: Changing With the Times". DRAM. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  30. ^ "George Lewis: Endless Shout". AllMusic.com. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  31. ^ "George Lewis : Endless Shout". Tzadik. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  32. ^ "The Shadowgraph Series: Compositions for Creative Orchestra". NOW Society. 20 November 2008. 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. S2CID 193098793. 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.

External links[edit]