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 69)
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
Associated actsICP Orchestra, Musica Elettronica Viva, Globe Unity Orchestra

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 received the American Book Award.[1] Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music, Composition & Historical Musicology at Columbia University.[4]


George E. Lewis in 2006.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Lewis first encountered the AACM while taking a year off from Yale University at the age of 19.[2] Members encouraged him to finish his degree, and he graduated from Yale in 1974 with a degree in philosophy.[5] Shortly after, he released Solo Trombone Record to great acclaim.[6] 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.

He has also performed with Frederic Rzewski and Alvin Curran's Musica Elettronica Viva,[7] as well as the Globe Unity Orchestra[4] and the ICP Orchestra (Instant Composer's Pool).[8]

In the 1980s, he succeeded Rhys Chatham as the music director of The Kitchen.[9]

Between 1988 and 1990, Lewis collaborated with video artist Don Ritter to create performances of interactive music and interactive video controlled by Lewis's improvised trombone.[10]

In 1992, Lewis collaborated with Canadian artist Stan Douglas on the video installation Hors-champs which was featured at documenta 9 in Kassel, Germany. The installation features Lewis in an improvisation of Albert Ayler's "Spirits Rejoice" with musicians Douglas Ewart, Kent Carter and Oliver Johnson.[11]

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.[4] 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 three honorary degrees: Doctor of Music from the University of Edinburgh in 2015, Doctor of Humane Letters from New College of Florida in 2017, and Doctor of Music from Harvard University in 2018.[12]

Since 2004, he has served as Edward H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University in New York City.[4] He previously taught at the University of California, San Diego.[13]

Lewis is featured extensively in Unyazi of the Bushveld (2005), directed by Aryan Kaganof,[14] a documentary about the first symposium of electronic music held in Africa.[15] 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.[16]

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).[17] The book received the 2009 American Book Award.[1]

In 2008 his work "Morning Blues for Yvan" was featured on the compilation album Crosstalk: American Speech Music (Bridge Records) produced by Mendi + Keith Obadike.


As leader[edit]

  • Solo Trombone Record (Sackville, 1976)
  • George Lewis (Black Saint, 1977)
  • George Lewis Douglas Ewart (Black Saint, 1978)
  • Homage to Charles Parker (Black Saint, 1979)
  • Chicago Slow Dance (1977) (Lovely, 1981)
  • Yankees (Charly, 1982)
  • Change of Season (Soul Note, 1986)
  • Dutch Masters (Soul Note, 1987)
  • Sachse, Joe: Berlin Tango (Jazzwerkstatt, 1987)
  • News for Lulu (hat Hut, 1988) with Zorn and Bill Frisell
  • More News for Lulu (hat Hut, 1992; recorded 1989) with Zorn and Frisell
  • Voyager (Avant, 1993)
  • Changing With the Times (New World, 1993)
  • The Usual Turmoil and Other Duets (Music & Arts, 1998)
  • Conversations (Incus, 1998)
  • Endless Shout (Tzadik, 2000)
  • The Shadowgraph Series: Compositions for Creative (Spool, 2001)
  • From Saxophone & Trombone (PSI, 2002)
  • Streaming (Pi, 2006)
  • SoundDance (Pi, 2011)
  • George Lewis: Les Exercices Spirituels (Tzadik, 2011)
  • Sequel (For Lester Bowie) (Intakt, 2011)
  • Sonic Rivers (Tzadik, 2014)[18]


As sideman[edit]

With Muhal Richard Abrams

With Anthony Braxton

With Anthony Davis

With Gil Evans

With Globe Unity Orchestra

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

With ICP Orchestra

  • Bospaadje Konijnehol I (1986)
  • ICP Plays Monk (1986)

With Steve Lacy

  • Prospectus (hat ART, 1983) also released as Cliches
  • Futurities (hat Hut, 1985)
  • The Beat Suite (Sunnyside, 2001)
  • Last Tour (Eminem, 2004)

With Roscoe Mitchell

With David Murray

  • Ming (Black Saint, 1980)
  • Home (Black Saint, 1982)

With Richard Teitelbaum

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

With others

  • Barry Altschul, You Can't Name Your Own Tune (Muse, 1977)
  • Fred Anderson, Another Place (Moers, 1979)
  • Jacques Bekaert, Summer Music 1970 (Lovely/Vital, 1979)
  • Leo Smith Creative Orchestra, Budding of a Rose (Moers, 1979)
  • Leroy Jenkins, Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival of America (Tomato, 1979)
  • Sam Rivers, Contrasts (ECM, 1979)
  • Material, Memory Serves (Celluloid, 1981)[19]
  • John Zorn, Archery (Parachute, 1981)
  • Laurie Anderson, Big Science (Warner Bros., 1981)
  • John Lindberg Trio, Give and Take (Black Saint, 1982)
  • Rhys Chatham, Factor X (Moers, 1983)
  • Joelle Leandre, Les Douze Sons (NATO, 1985)
  • Ushio Torikai, Go Where? (Victor, 1986)
  • Heiner Goebbels, Der Mann im Fahrstuhl (ECM, 1987)
  • India Cooke, RedHanded (Music & Arts, 1996)
  • Steve Coleman, Genesis & The Opening of the Way (BMG/RCA Victor, 1997)
  • Evod Magek, Through Love to Freedom (Black Pot, 1998)
  • Miya Masaoka Orchestra, What Is the Difference Between Stripping and Playing the Violin? (Victo, 1998)
  • NOW Orchestra, WOWOW (Spool, 1999)
  • Musica Elettronica Viva, MEV 40 (New World, 2008)
  • Bert Turetzky & Mike Wofford, Transition and Transformation (Nine Winds)


Solo and chamber music

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


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


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

Interactive computer music

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

Music Theatre

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

Creative orchestra

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

Graphic and instructional scores

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

  • Lewis, George E. "Americanist Musicology and Nomadic Noise." Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Fall 2011), pp. 691–95.
  • Lewis, George E. "Interactivity and Improvisation". In Dean, Roger T., ed. The Oxford Handbook of Computer Music. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press (2009), 457-66.
  • Lewis, George E. "The Virtual Discourses of Pamela Z". In Hassan, Salah M., and Cheryl Finley, eds. Diaspora, Memory, Place: David Hammons, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Pamela Z. Munich: Prestel (2008), 266-81.
  • Lewis, George E., "Foreword: After Afrofuturism." Journal of the Society for American Music, Volume 2, Number 2, pp. 139–53 (2008).
  • Lewis, George E., "Stan Douglas's Suspiria: Genealogies of Recombinant Narrativity." In Stan Douglas, Past Imperfect: Works 1986-2007. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 42-53 (2008).
  • Lewis, George E., "Improvising Tomorrow's Bodies: The Politics of Transduction." E-misférica, Vol. 4.2, November 2007.
  • Lewis, George E., "Mobilitas Animi: Improvising Technologies, Intending Chance." Parallax, Vol. 13, No. 4, (2007), 108–122.
  • Lewis, George E., "Living with Creative Machines: An Improvisor Reflects." In Anna Everett and Amber J. Wallace, eds. AfroGEEKS: Beyond the Digital Divide. Santa Barbara: Center for Black Studies Research, 2007, 83-99.
  • Lewis, George E. "Live Algorithms and the Future of Music." CT Watch Quarterly, May 2007.
  • Lewis, George E. Improvisation and the Orchestra: A Composer Reflects. Contemporary Music Review, Vol. 25, Nos. 5/6, October/December 2006, pp. 429–34.
  • Lewis, George E. "The Secret Love between Interactivity and Improvisation, or Missing in Interaction: A Prehistory of Computer Interactivity". In Fähndrich, Walter, ed. Improvisation V: 14 Beiträge. Winterthur: Amadeus (2003), 193-203.
  • Lewis, George E. 2004. "Gittin' to Know Y'all: Improvised Music, Interculturalism and the Racial Imagination". Critical Studies in Improvisation, Vol. 1, No. 1, ISSN 1712-0624,
  • Lewis, George E. 2004. "Leben mit kreativen Maschinen: Reflexionen eines improvisierenden Musikers". In Knauer, Wolfram, ed. Improvisieren: Darmstädter Beiträge zur Jazzforschung, Band 8. Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 123-144.
  • Lewis, George. 2004. Afterword to "Improvised Music After 1950": The Changing Same. In Fischlin, Daniel, and Ajay Heble, eds. The Other Side of Nowhere: Jazz, Improvisation, and Communities in Dialogue. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 163-72.
  • Lewis, George E., "Too Many Notes: Computers, complexity and culture in Voyager." Leonardo Music Journal 10, 2000, 33-39. Reprinted in Everett, Anna, and John T. Caldwell, eds. 2003. New Media: Theories and Practices of Intertextuality. New York and London: Routledge, 93-106.
  • Lewis, George, "Teaching Improvised Music: An Ethnographic Memoir." In Zorn, John, ed. Arcana: Musicians on Music. New York: Granary Books (2000), 78-109.
  • Lewis, George, "Improvised Music After 1950: Afrological and Eurological Perspectives." Black Music Research Journal, vol. 16, No.1, Spring 1996, 91-122. Excerpted in Cox, Christoph, and Daniel Warner. 2004. Audio Culture: Readings In Modern Music. New York: Continuum, 272-86.


  1. ^ a b c d e "George E. Lewis". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d 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 "George E. Lewis". The Department of Music at Columbia University. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  5. ^ "George E. Lewis". The HistoryMakers. 24 October 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  6. ^ Palmer, Robert (2 October 1977). "The New Intimacy Of Solo Jazz". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  7. ^ Robin, William (27 June 2021). "Frederic Rzewski, Politically Committed Composer and Pianist, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  8. ^ Layne, Joslyn. "ICP Orchestra". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-10-03.
  9. ^ Hunter, Trevor (2010-06-01). "George E. Lewis—The Story's Being Told". Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  10. ^ "Don Ritter Biography". Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Harvard awards seven honorary degrees". May 24, 2018.
  13. ^ Sutro, Dirk (2015-04-30). "UC San Diego Composer Rand Steiger Wins 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship". UC San Diego News Center. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  14. ^ Lewis, George E. "Recharging Unyazi 2005". Herri. Africa Open Institute. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  15. ^ "UNYAZI Electronic Music Symposium and Festival 2005". Art Africa Magazine. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  16. ^ "NIME 06 Session Program". NIME. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "George Lewis | Album Discography | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  19. ^ Scott Yanow. "Live at the Public Theater in New York, Vol. 1 - Gil Evans | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-07-26.

External links[edit]