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Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: 50 Years of Mondays!

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra in NYC

In 1965, the trumpeter, composer and arranger Thad Jones and the drummer Mel Lewis found themselves with a book of Big Band music originally intended for the Count Basie Orchestra — and nobody to perform it. So they made their own.

They handpicked some of New York's top talent and called rehearsals on Monday nights, when the studio musicians could actually make it. And by the time they debuted on a Monday in February 1966 at the famed Village Vanguard, they were already a force to be reckoned with — soon to become the most influential big band of the last 50 years. The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, now the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, still plays every Monday night.

Jazz Night In America heads to the basement jazz shrine to see the band's 50th anniversary show in February 2016, full of cuts from the original Thad Jones songbook. Our radio program tells the story of how the band came to be.


Mat Jodrell, trumpet; Jon Owens, trumpet; Terell Stafford, trumpet; Scott Wendholt, trumpet; Luis Bonilla, trombone; Jason Jackson, trombone; John Mosca, trombone; Douglas Purviance, bass trombone; Dick Oatts, alto sax/winds; Billy Drewes, alto sax/soprano sax/winds; Rich Perry, tenor sax/winds; Ralph Lalama, tenor sax/winds; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Michael Weiss, piano; David Wong, bass; John Riley, drums with Jerry Dodgion, alto sax.