John Lewis

John Lewis on the cover of his 1958 album The John Lewis Piano.

Born May 3, 1920, New Mexico raised John Aaron Lewis was an American jazz pianist and composer and is best known as the musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Born in Illinois, he was raised near the South Broadway Cultural Center in Albuquerque. He attended the University of New Mexico where he studied music and anthropology. After college, he entered the army where he met and played with musicians who inspired him to move to New York City.

After the move to the city, he met, played for Dizzy Gillespie, with whom he wrote hit “Two Bass Hit.” He met and played with other jazz greats, such as Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, and Miles Davis.

In the early 1950s, he formed the Modern Jazz Quartet, where he took directing reigns and which defined his career. After a long career of contributing to the jazz genre, Lewis passed away in New York on March 29, 2001, at the age of 80.