Mundell Lowe

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Mundell Lowe
Lowe in Saarbrücken, 2000
Background information
Birth nameJames Mundell Lowe
Born(1922-04-21)April 21, 1922
Shady Grove, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedDecember 2, 2017(2017-12-02) (aged 95)
San Diego, California
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, conductor
Years active1946–2017
LabelsRCA Victor, Riverside, RCA Camden, Fresh Sound, Nagel-Heyer

James Mundell Lowe (April 21, 1922 – December 2, 2017) was an American jazz guitarist who worked often in radio, television, and film, and as a session musician.

He produced film and TV scores in the 1970s, such as the Billy Jack soundtrack and music for Starsky and Hutch, and worked with André Previn's Trio in the 1990s.


The son of a Baptist minister, Lowe grew up on a farm in Shady Grove, Mississippi, near Laurel. He started playing guitar when he was eight years old, with his father and sister acting as his first teachers. When he was thirteen, he began running away from home to play in bands.[1][2][3] Occasionally his father would find him, bring him home, and warn him about the dangers of whiskey. At sixteen, Lowe worked in Nashville on the Grand Ole Opry radio program.[1][4] He was a member of the Jan Savitt orchestra before serving in the military during World War II.[2]

At basic training, he became friends with John Hammond, who organized weekend jam sessions. He performed in an Army dance band while in Guadalcanal. After his discharge, he called Hammond, looking for work, and Hammond sent him to Ray McKinley.[1] He spent two years with McKinley's big band in New York City.[2] He joined the Benny Goodman orchestra, then worked intermittently for the next few years at Café Society and other clubs in New York.[1]

In 1950, he was hired by NBC as a staff musician.[2] He and Ed Shaughnessy were members of the Today Show band for over ten years. Lowe acted in an episode of the Armstrong Circle Theatre television show that included Walter Matthau and live music by Doc Severinsen.[1]

On the weekends he played jazz, sometimes getting permission from NBC to leave for six-month periods. In the jazz world he played with Jimmy Dorsey and Tommy Dorsey, Bill Evans, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, and Lester Young. He composed and arranged for NBC.[1][2] He was responsible for introducing pianist Bill Evans to record producer Orrin Keepnews, resulting in Evans's first recordings as a leader.[5]

In 1965 he moved to Los Angeles and worked for NBC as a staff guitarist, composer, and arranger.[6] He wrote music for the TV shows Hawaii Five-O, Starsky & Hutch, and The Wild Wild West, and the movies Billy Jack and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask.[4] He recorded with Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan. During the 1980s, he worked with André Previn, Tete Montoliu, and the Great Guitars.[2] He was a teacher at the Guitar Institute of Technology and the Grove School of Music. For several years, he was music director of the Monterey Jazz Festival.[6]

During his career, he worked with Benny Carter, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Hodges, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Lee Konitz, Peggy Lee, Fats Navarro, Shirley Scott, Dinah Washington, and Ben Webster.[4] In the later decades of his life he collaborated often with flautist Holly Hoffman. At the age of 93, he released the album Poor Butterfly.

Lowe was married to singer Betty Bennett, his third wife, for 42 years. In his last years, the couple lived in San Diego. He died on December 2, 2017, at the age of 95.[6]


As leader[edit]

Film soundtracks[edit]

TV scores[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Tony Bennett

With Gene Bianco

  • Harp, Skip & Jump (RCA Camden, 1958)

With Ruth Brown

With Benny Carter

With Rosemary Clooney

With Al Cohn

With Sammy Davis Jr.

  • Mood to Be Wooed (Decca, 1957)

With Blossom Dearie

With Don Elliott and Rusty Dedrick

With Jimmy Forrest

With Ella Fitzgerald

With Johnny Hodges

With Billie Holiday

With J. J. Johnson

With Quincy Jones

With Richie Kamuca

  • Richard Kamuca Quartet 1976 (Jazzz, 1976)

With Barry Manilow

With Herbie Mann

With Carmen McRae

With Joe Mooney

  • The Greatness of Joe Mooney (Columbia, 1963)

With Charlie Parker

  • The Legendary Rockland Palace Concert, Volume 1 (Jazz Classics, 1952)

With André Previn

With Johnnie Ray

With Lalo Schifrin

With Shirley Scott

With Sarah Vaughan

With Ben Webster


  1. ^ a b c d e f Carlton, Jim (2009). Conversations with Great Jazz and Studio Guitarists. Pacific, Missouri: Bill's Music Shelf. pp. 240–259. ISBN 9780786651238.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Yanow, Scott (2013). The Great Jazz Guitarists. San Francisco: Backbeat. p. 124. ISBN 978-1-61713-023-6.
  3. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Mundell Lowe". AllMusic. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  4. ^ a b c Varga, George (1 December 2008). "Mundell Lowe: Man of Few Notes, Many Stories". JazzTimes. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  5. ^ Myers, Marc (14 January 2008). "Mundel Lowe Interview". Jazzwax.
  6. ^ a b c Varga, George (2 December 2017). "Mundell Lowe dead at 95. Guitar great played with Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Everly Brothers and more". San Diego Union Tribune.

External links[edit]