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Updated: Thursday, 10 Jan 2013, 5:34 PM CST
Published : Thursday, 10 Jan 2013, 5:34 PM CST
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Nearly 60 years ago jazz musician Joe Lewis fell in love with the saxophone. He said he quickly became serious about playing the instrument, practicing and listening to more experienced saxophone players. Now, he's considered a Mobile jazz legend known for his talent and performing with many jazz music greats.
Lewis shared how it all started and how music has taken him to places he had only imagined going.
BECOMING A LEGEND
"You don't set out to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be a legend.’ People do that; all I can say is I thank the people for feeling this way about me. I was just serious about my music. Everybody that has played with me, all the people that know me, know that I was serious about the music. It's like B.B. King; he's a legend. He didn't set out to be, but that's what he is. And so that's what they call me. I don't know how that came about, but that’s what they say I am," Lewis said with a laugh.
Lewis said his interest in music started years ago in his family home. His parents and an uncle sang and played the blues. They didn’t professionally, but in the presence of everyone at the Lewis home.
"We had an old piano in our house, and we would all bang on the piano and that was my first musical instrument. I wanted to sing and play like the great Nat King Cole," he said. "My older brother was a fine trumpet player, and we all just followed suit. We just developed a trait for jazz and music in our family. We just developed a love for jazz and music," adds Lewis.
He was given his first horn in the seventh grade. Lewis played the Baritone horn in the school band. Then in high school, the future jazz legend found "the horn" that changed everything.
STARTING OUT ON THE SAX
"In high school, I had a dear friend Joe Morris known throughout the city. He was my influence with the saxophone. I would hear him play, I thought he was the greatest and I just loved the sound of it. That's when I got interested in the saxophone and I started to go with him, and sitting with him at the little night spots. I was much too young to be doing this, but nevertheless I did it," remembers Lewis.
"It was just a personal love for it, I just love the saxophone, I started taking lessons. I was good at typing, I was really one of the top students in my class in typing, and it was the same thing with the saxophone the coordination of the fingers," shares Lewis.
Lewis' coordination of the fingers and his love of the saxophone and jazz music "quickly" turned his sitting and listening to other musicians as a young high school student, to performing at night spots and in Mardi Gras parades.
"I was very proficient on my instrument. I started to play around the city. I was a very young age playing in the night spots," says Lewis."I also got to play with the Excelsior Band, Mobile's premiere Mardi Gras music band. Before I left out of high school, I was playing with the Excelsior Band," Lewis remembers.
He left Mobile on a journey after high school. At the beginning, Lewis didn't know how important the next four years would be in his music education.
"I couldn't afford to go to college so the next best thing was to go into the service. I got into the U.S. Air Force band, and that’s where I received all of my education. I met these incredible musicians and playing in the band was our job, 8 to 5. We played music, we played in the concert band, and we played in the marching band. We had individual rehearsals and we had section rehearsals. I played in a big band, and that's where I got all of my training in the Air Force. That's all I did was practice, practice and play," remembered Lewis.
The United States Air Force band presented Lewis an experience of a lifetime playing in Europe and Africa.
"I got a lot of exposure traveling around overseas playing in the big band. Just to name a few, I toured Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Turkey and Libya. And then when I came back to the states. The first thing I did was form a band," Lewis shared.
MOBILE: ‘A JAZZ CAPITAL’
He said Mobile was a place to be for jazz.
"Mobile more so then than now, was known as a jazz capital. We had some great musicians come out of here. I came back with new ideas, and I formed several groups," said Lewis. "I just continued to do that until I finally got with my brothers, we formed the Lewis brothers, there was long history of us around here.”
Performing with his brothers, bands, and as a solo act, Joe Lewis and his saxophone "fueled" the legend.
Over the years, he shared the stage with many of the greats of the day. Ray Charles, Ramsey Lewis, Arthur Prysock, Millie Jackson, The Manhattans, and The Dramatics were just a few Lewis performed with. Lewis also opened for Comedian Redd Foxx.
"I opened up for Lou Rawls, and that was one of the biggest thrills. I wrote a song for him, and sad to say, he never got a chance to record it, but he said he was. That was one of my biggest," Lewis shares.
EVERYWHERE I’VE BEEN IS BECAUSE OF MUSIC
think back often of where would I be, where would I be if I had not gotten into music. I don't know where I would be, and I know what music has done for me it has taken me literally around the world. Everywhere I've been it was because of music. And so, if I can help some young child develop enough talent, I know what's waiting out there for them. They can do things that they'll never do any other kind of way unless they're in music,” said Lewis.
Lewis takes his message of what music can do, to schools all over the Gulf Coast. He also tutors students who are serious about their music. Lewis performed with the Excelsior Band for 25 years, and you can still catch him performing at local venues here on the Gulf Coast.
Lewis has also served as for many years as the Music and Choir Director at St. James Major Catholic Church. When asked if he plans on retiring anytime soon, Lewis said jazz lovers won't let him, and that he'll probably be playing music when he finally leaves here.