Sabby Lewis

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William Sebastian "Sabby" Lewis (November 1, 1914 in Middleburgh, North Carolina – July 9, 1994) was a jazz pianist, band leader, and arranger.

Biography[edit]

Lewis was born in Middleburgh, North Carolina, but was raised in Philadelphia.[1] He started taking piano lessons when he was 5 and moved to Boston in 1932. After working with Tasker Crosson's Ten Statesmen in 1934, Lewis organized his own 7-piece band in 1936.[2]

In the late 30s and early 40s Sabby Lewis and his band were mainstays at notable Boston jazz venues such as the Roseland-State Ballroom, Egleston Square Gardens, and The Savoy Café.[3]

In 1942, Lewis' band won a listener contest on a broadcast from the Statler Hotel's Terrace Room in Boston. The contest, sponsored by the F.W. Fitch Company, was to select a band to appear regularly on NBC's Bandwagon program, heard on 120 stations at the time.[4]

Though Lewis did not tour frequently nor leave Boston often, he did perform on Broadway and in ballrooms and clubs in Manhattan such as Kelly's Stables, the Zanzibar and the Famous Door.[5] He performed with Dinah Washington and Billy Eckstine. "I recall one night at the Famous Door when Count Basie checked out the band," Lewis said. "He stood just inside the door and listened and left without saying a word. The next night I received a telegram from the Count. It contained three words: Rock 'em, Pops." [6]

During World War II, Lewis' orchestra included long-time Ellington tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves,[7] and drummer Alan Dawson spent much of the 1950s in the band.[8] Other notable alumni of the Lewis band included trumpeters Cat Anderson, Sonny Stitt, Roy Haynes, Al Morgan, Idrees Sulieman and Joe Gordon.[9][10]

Lewis was seriously injured in an automobile accident in October 1962, an event which greatly curtailed his performing.[11]

Mr. Lewis became Boston's first African-American disk jockey when he went to work at WBMS (later WILD)[12] in the 1950s.[13] Lewis received a proclamation from Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in 1984. The special music citation celebrated his work and his place in the African-American history of Boston.[14]

Lewis had second career as a housing investigator for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. A position from which he retired in 1984.[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Sabby Lewis; Pianist, 79". The New York Times. p. 8. 
  2. ^ The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. St. Martin's Press. 1996. p. 697. ISBN 0-333-63231-1. 
  3. ^ Vacca, Richard. The Boston Jazz Chronicles: Faces, Places, and Nightlife 1937-1962. ISBN 978-0-9839910-0-7. ...as Lewis worked the Massachusetts Avenue clubs, dance halls like the Roseland-State Ballroom and Egleston Square Gardens, and every kind of social event and dinner dance imaginable. The Savoy job was a big prize and surely some of the other capable bandleaders in town must have sought it. 
  4. ^ Vacca, Richard. The Boston Jazz Chronicles: Faces, Places, and Nightlife 1937-1962. ISBN 978-0-9839910-0-7. In the summer of 1942, the Lewis band won a listener contest sponsored by the F.W. Fitch Company, a maker of hair care products and a national sponsor of radio programming, to select a Boston-area band for its popular Bandwagon program on NBC. 
  5. ^ Santosuosso, Ernie (20 July 1984). "WEEKEND; SABBY'S RETIRING - BUT NOT FROM MUSIC". The Boston Globe. p. 1. 
  6. ^ Santosuosso, Ernie (20 July 1984). "WEEKEND; SABBY'S RETIRING - BUT NOT FROM MUSIC". The Boston Globe. p. 1. "I recall one night at the Famous Door when Count Basie checked out the band," Lewis said. 
  7. ^ The rough guide to jazz p.300 By Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather, Brian Priestley
  8. ^ The rough guide to jazz p. 203 By Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather, Brian Priestley
  9. ^ The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. St. Martin's Press. 1996. p. 697. ISBN 0-333-63231-1. 
  10. ^ Santosuosso, Ernie (20 July 1984). "WEEKEND; SABBY'S RETIRING - BUT NOT FROM MUSIC". The Boston Globe. p. 1. 
  11. ^ "New York Beat". Jet. XXIII (9): 63. December 20, 1962. 
  12. ^ Vaznis, James (11 July 1994). "William Sebastian Lewis, 79; was jazz musician, disc jockey". The Boston Globe. In the 1950s, Mr. Lewis took to the airwaves of WBMS, later known as WILD, as Boston's first black disc jockey. 
  13. ^ "Sabby Lewis; Pianist, 79". The New York Times. p. 8. 
  14. ^ Vaznis, James (11 July 1994). "William Sebastian Lewis, 79; was jazz musician, disc jockey". The Boston Globe. In 1984, he received a proclamation from then Gov. Michael Dukakis for his work and as a part of the celebration of 350 years of black presence in Boston, Mr. Lewis received a special music achievement award. 
  15. ^ Santosuosso, Ernie (20 July 1984). "WEEKEND; SABBY'S RETIRING - BUT NOT FROM MUSIC". The Boston Globe. p. 1.