George Lewis (trombonist)

George Emanuel Lewis (born July 14, 1952) is an American composer, electronic performer, installation artist, trombone player, and scholar in the fields of improvisation and experimental music.[1] He has been a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971 and is a pioneer of computer music.[2]

George Lewis
Born (1952-07-14) July 14, 1952
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
GenresJazz, avant-garde jazz, computer music
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, educator
LabelsSackville, Charly, Black Saint, Soul Note, Avant, Music & Arts, Pi, Incus, Tzadik
Associated actsICP Orchestra, Musica Elettronica Viva, Globe Unity Orchestra


Born in Chicago, Illinois, Lewis graduated from Yale University in 1974 with a degree in philosophy. In the 1980s, he succeeded Rhys Chatham as the music director of The Kitchen.[3] Since 2004, he has served as Edward H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University in New York City, where he is now Vice-Chair of the Department of Music.[4] He previously taught at the University of California, San Diego.[1] In 2002, Lewis received a MacArthur Fellowship. He has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), a United States Artists Fellowship (2011), the Alpert Award in the Arts (1999), and the American Musicological Society's Music in American Culture Award in 2009. He became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy in 2016, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2018.

He has recorded or performed with Anthony Braxton, Anthony Davis, Bertram Turetzky, Conny Bauer, Count Basie, David Behrman, David Murray, Derek Bailey, Douglas Ewart, Evan Parker, Fred Anderson, Frederic Rzewski, Gil Evans, Han Bennink, Irène Schweizer, J. D. Parran, James Newton, Joel Ryan, Joëlle Léandre, John Zorn, Karl E. H. Seigfried, Laurie Anderson, Leroy Jenkins, Marina Rosenfeld, Michel Portal, Misha Mengelberg, Miya Masaoka, Muhal Richard Abrams, Nicole Mitchell, Richard Teitelbaum, Roscoe Mitchell, Sam Rivers, Steve Lacy, and Wadada Leo Smith.

He was also a sometime member of Musica Elettronica Viva, the Globe Unity Orchestra, and the ICP Orchestra (Instant Composer's Pool).[5]

Lewis has long been active in creating and performing with interactive computer systems, most notably his software called Voyager, which "listens to" and reacts to live performers. Between 1988 and 1990, Lewis collaborated with video artist Don Ritter to create performances of interactive music and interactive video controlled by Lewis's improvised trombone.[6] Lewis and Ritter performed at venues in North America and Europe, including Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, Verona Jazz Festival, Art Institute of Chicago, The Kitchen (New York City), New Music America 1989 (New York City), The Alternative Museum (New York City), A Space (Toronto), and the MIT Media Lab (Cambridge, Massachusetts).

In 2008, Lewis published a book-length history of the AACM titled A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press). The book received the 2009 American Book Award.

Lewis has received three honorary degrees: Doctor of Music from the University of Edinburgh in 2015; Doctor of Humane Letters from New College of Florida in 2017, and Doctor of Music from Harvard University in 2018.[2]


In 1992, Lewis collaborated with Canadian artist Stan Douglas on the video installation Hors-champs which was featured at documenta 9 in Kassel, Germany. The installation features Lewis in an improvisation of Albert Ayler's "Spirits Rejoice" with musicians Douglas Ewart, Kent Carter and Oliver Johnson.[7]

Lewis is featured extensively in Unyazi of the Bushveld (2005), a documentary about the first symposium of electronic music held in Africa, directed by Aryan Kaganof.

Lewis gave an invited keynote lecture and performance at NIME-06, the sixth international conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, which was held at IRCAM, Paris, in June 2006.

In 2008 his work "Morning Blues for Yvan" was featured on the compilation album Crosstalk: American Speech Music (Bridge Records) produced by Mendi + Keith Obadike.


As leader

  • Solo Trombone Record (Sackville, 1976)
  • George Lewis (Black Saint, 1977)
  • George Lewis Douglas Ewart (Black Saint, 1978)
  • Homage to Charles Parker (Black Saint, 1979)
  • Chicago Slow Dance (1977) (Lovely, 1981)
  • Yankees (Charly, 1982)
  • Change of Season (Soul Note, 1986)
  • Dutch Masters (Soul Note, 1987)
  • Sachse, Joe: Berlin Tango (Jazzwerkstatt, 1987)
  • News for Lulu (hat Hut, 1988) with Zorn and Bill Frisell
  • More News for Lulu (hat Hut, 1992; recorded 1989) with Zorn and Frisell
  • Voyager (Avant, 1993)
  • Changing With the Times (New World, 1993)
  • The Usual Turmoil and Other Duets (Music & Arts, 1998)
  • Conversations (Incus, 1998)
  • Endless Shout (Tzadik, 2000)
  • The Shadowgraph Series: Compositions for Creative (Spool, 2001)
  • From Saxophone & Trombone (PSI, 2002)
  • Streaming (Pi, 2006)
  • SoundDance (Pi, 2011)
  • George Lewis: Les Exercices Spirituels (Tzadik, 2011)
  • Sequel (For Lester Bowie) (Intakt, 2011)
  • Sonic Rivers (Tzadik, 2014)[8]


As sideman

With Anthony Braxton

With Anthony Davis

With Steve Lacy

  • Prospectus (hat ART, 1983) also released as Cliches

With David Murray

  • Ming (Black Saint, 1980)
  • Home (Black Saint, 1982)

With Gil Evans

With Globe Unity Orchestra

  • 20th Anniversary (FMP, 1993; recorded 1986)
  • Globe Unity – 40 Years (Intakt, 2007)

With ICP Orchestra

  • Bospaadje Konijnehol I (1986)
  • ICP Plays Monk (1986)

With Muhal Richard Abrams

With Richard Teitelbaum

  • Concerto Grosso (hat Hut, 1988)
  • Cyberband (Moers, 1993)
  • Golem (Tzadik, 1995)

With Roscoe Mitchell

With Steve Lacy

  • Prospectus (hat Hut, 1984)
  • Futurities (hat Hut, 1985)
  • Clichés (hat Hut, 1997; recorded 1992)

With others

  • Barry Altschul, You Can't Name Your Own Tune (Muse, 1977)
  • Fred Anderson, Another Place (Moers, 1979)
  • Jacques Bekaert, Summer Music 1970 (Lovely/Vital, 1979)
  • Leo Smith Creative Orchestra, Budding of a Rose (Moers, 1979)
  • Leroy Jenkins, Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival of America (Tomato, 1979)
  • Sam Rivers, Contrasts (ECM, 1979)
  • Material, Memory Serves (Celluloid, 1981)[9]
  • John Zorn, Archery (Parachute, 1981)
  • Laurie Anderson, Big Science (Warner Bros., 1981)
  • John Lindberg Trio, Give and Take (Black Saint, 1982)
  • Rhys Chatham, Factor X (Moers, 1983)
  • Joelle Leandre, Les Douze Sons (NATO, 1985)
  • Ushio Torikai, Go Where? (Victor, 1986)
  • Heiner Goebbels, Der Mann im Fahrstuhl (ECM, 1987)
  • India Cooke, RedHanded (Music & Arts, 1996)
  • Steve Coleman, Genesis & The Opening of the Way (BMG/RCA Victor, 1997)
  • Evod Magek, Through Love to Freedom (Black Pot, 1998)
  • Miya Masaoka Orchestra, What Is the Difference Between Stripping and Playing the Violin? (Victo, 1998)
  • NOW Orchestra, WOWOW (Spool, 1999)
  • Musica Elettronica Viva, MEV 40 (New World, 2008)
  • Bert Turetzky & Mike Wofford, Transition and Transformation (Nine Winds)


Solo and chamber music

  • "Thistledown" (2012), for quartet
  • "The Will To Adorn" (2011), for large chamber ensemble
  • "Ikons" (2010), for octet
  • "Dancing in the Palace" (2009), for tenor voice and viola, with text by Donald Hall
  • "Signifying Riffs" (1998), for string quartet and percussion
  • "Ring Shout Ramble" (1998), for saxophone quartet
  • "Collage" (1995), for poet and chamber orchestra, with text by Quincy Troupe
  • "Endless Shout" (1994), for piano
  • "Toneburst" (1976) for three trombones


  • "Anthem" (2011), for chamber ensemble with electronics
  • "Les Exercices Spirituels" (2010) for eight instruments and computer sound spatialization
  • "Sour Mash" (2009), composition for vinyl turntablists, with Marina Rosenfeld
  • "Hello Mary Lou" (2007) for chamber ensemble and live electronics
  • "Crazy Quilt" (2002), for infrared-controlled "virtual percussion" and four percussionists
  • "North Star Boogaloo" (1996), for percussionist and computer, with text by Quincy Troupe
  • "Virtual Discourse" (1993), composition for infrared-controlled "virtual percussion" and four percussionists
  • "Nightmare At The Best Western" (1992), for baritone voice and six instruments
  • "Atlantic" (1978), for amplified trombones with resonant filters


  • "Ikons" (2010), interactive sound sculpture, with Eric Metcalfe
  • "Travelogue" (2009), sound installation
  • "Rio Negro II" (2007), robotic-acoustic sound installation, with Douglas Ewart and Douglas Irving Repetto.
  • "Information Station No. 1" (2000), multi-screen videosonic interactive installation for the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, San Diego, Calif.
  • "Rio Negro" (1992), robotic-acoustic sound-sculpture installation, with Douglas Ewart
  • "A Map of the Known World" (1987), interactive mbira-driven audiovisual installation, with David Behrman
  • "Mbirascope/Algorithme et kalimba" (1985), interactive mbira-driven audiovisual installation, with David Behrman

Interactive computer music

  • "Interactive Duo" (2007), for interactive computer-driven piano and human instrumentalist
  • "Interactive Trio" (2007), for interactive computer-driven piano, human pianist, and additional instrumentalist
  • "Virtual Concerto" (2004), for improvising computer piano soloist and orchestra
  • "Voyager" (1987), for improvising soloist and interactive “virtual orchestra"
  • "Rainbow Family" (1984), for soloists with multiple interactive computer systems
  • "Chamber Music for Humans and Non-Humans" (1980), for micro-computer and improvising musician
  • "The KIM and I" (1979), for micro-computer and improvising musician

Music Theatre

  • "The Empty Chair" (1986), computer-driven videosonic music theatre work
  • "Changing With The Times" (1991), radiophonic/music theatre work

Creative orchestra

  • "Triangle" (2009)
  • "Something Like Fred" (2009)
  • "Fractals" (2007)
  • "Angry Bird" (2007)
  • "Shuffle" (2007)
  • "The Chicken Skin II" (2007)
  • "Hello and Goodbye" (1976/2000)
  • "The Shadowgraph Series, 1-5" (1975–77)

Graphic and instructional scores

  • "Artificial Life 2007" (2007), composition for improvisors with open instrumentation
  • "Sequel" (2004), for eight electro-acoustic performers
  • "Blues" (1979), graphic score for four instruments
  • "Homage to Charles Parker" (1979), for improvisors and electronics
  • "Chicago Slow Dance" (1977), for electro-acoustic ensemble
  • "The Imaginary Suite" (1977), two movements for tape, live electronics, and instruments
  • "Monads" (1977), graphic score for any instrumentation

Books and essays

  • Lewis, George E. "Americanist Musicology and Nomadic Noise." Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Fall 2011), pp. 691–95.
  • Lewis, George E. "Interactivity and Improvisation". In Dean, Roger T., ed. The Oxford Handbook of Computer Music. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press (2009), 457-66.
  • Lewis, George E. A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
  • Lewis, George E. "The Virtual Discourses of Pamela Z". In Hassan, Salah M., and Cheryl Finley, eds. Diaspora, Memory, Place: David Hammons, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Pamela Z. Munich: Prestel (2008), 266-81.
  • Lewis, George E., "Foreword: After Afrofuturism." Journal of the Society for American Music, Volume 2, Number 2, pp. 139–53 (2008).
  • Lewis, George E., "Stan Douglas's Suspiria: Genealogies of Recombinant Narrativity." In Stan Douglas, Past Imperfect: Works 1986-2007. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 42-53 (2008).
  • Lewis, George E., "Improvising Tomorrow's Bodies: The Politics of Transduction." E-misférica, Vol. 4.2, November 2007.
  • Lewis, George E., "Mobilitas Animi: Improvising Technologies, Intending Chance." Parallax, Vol. 13, No. 4, (2007), 108–122.
  • Lewis, George E., "Living with Creative Machines: An Improvisor Reflects." In Anna Everett and Amber J. Wallace, eds. AfroGEEKS: Beyond the Digital Divide. Santa Barbara: Center for Black Studies Research, 2007, 83-99.
  • Lewis, George E. "Live Algorithms and the Future of Music." CT Watch Quarterly, May 2007.
  • Lewis, George E. Improvisation and the Orchestra: A Composer Reflects. Contemporary Music Review, Vol. 25, Nos. 5/6, October/December 2006, pp. 429–34.
  • Lewis, George E. "The Secret Love between Interactivity and Improvisation, or Missing in Interaction: A Prehistory of Computer Interactivity". In Fähndrich, Walter, ed. Improvisation V: 14 Beiträge. Winterthur: Amadeus (2003), 193-203.
  • Lewis, George E. 2004. "Gittin' to Know Y'all: Improvised Music, Interculturalism and the Racial Imagination". Critical Studies in Improvisation (peer-reviewed online journal), Vol. 1, No. 1, ISSN 1712-0624,
  • Lewis, George E. 2004. "Leben mit kreativen Maschinen: Reflexionen eines improvisierenden Musikers". In Knauer, Wolfram, ed. Improvisieren: Darmstädter Beiträge zur Jazzforschung, Band 8. Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 123-144.
  • Lewis, George. 2004. Afterword to "Improvised Music After 1950": The Changing Same. In Fischlin, Daniel, and Ajay Heble, eds. The Other Side of Nowhere: Jazz, Improvisation, and Communities in Dialogue. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 163-72.
  • Lewis, George E., "Too Many Notes: Computers, complexity and culture in Voyager." Leonardo Music Journal 10, 2000, 33-39. Reprinted in Everett, Anna, and John T. Caldwell, eds. 2003. New Media: Theories and Practices of Intertextuality. New York and London: Routledge, 93-106.
  • Lewis, George, "Teaching Improvised Music: An Ethnographic Memoir." In Zorn, John, ed. Arcana: Musicians on Music. New York: Granary Books (2000), 78-109.
  • Lewis, George, "Improvised Music After 1950: Afrological and Eurological Perspectives." Black Music Research Journal, vol. 16, No.1, Spring 1996, 91-122. Excerpted in Cox, Christoph, and Daniel Warner. 2004. Audio Culture: Readings In Modern Music. New York: Continuum, 272-86.


  1. Layne, Joslyn. "George Lewis". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-09-28.
  3. Hunter, Trevor (2010-06-01). "George E. Lewis—The Story's Being Told". NewMusicBox. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  4. George Lewis biography at Columbia University
  5. Layne, Joslyn. "ICP Orchestra". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-10-03.
  6. "Don Ritter Biography". Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  7. Gale, Peggy (1996). "Stan Douglas: Evening and others." VIDEO Re/VIEW: The (best) Source for Critical Writings on Canadian Artists' Video. Eds. Peggy Gale and Lisa Steele. Toronto: Art Metropole. p. 363. ISBN 0-920956-37-8
  8. "George Lewis | Album Discography | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  9. Scott Yanow. "Live at the Public Theater in New York, Vol. 1 - Gil Evans | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-07-26.


  • A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008) "Four Decades of Music That Redefined Free", New York Times May 2, 2008
  • Monaghan, Peter. "Thoroughly Modern Music" (review of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music by George E. Lewis). Chronicle of Higher Education, November 14, 2008, 113–117.
  • Bruno, Franklin J. Review of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music by George E. Lewis. The Nation, February 2, 2009, 34, 36.
  • Zorn, John, ed. (2000). Arcana: Musicians on Music. New York: Granary Books/Hips Road. ISBN 1-887123-27-X.
  • Interview with George Lewis in Christian Broecking: Jeder Ton eine Rettungsstation, Verbrecher, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-935843-85-0
  • Massarenti, Armando. "Vive bene chi sa improvvisare" (George Lewis and philosopher Arnold I. Davidson). Il Sole 24 Ore (Italy), 5 Luglio 2009.
  • Zenni, Stefano. Per il pensiero innovativo (interview with George Lewis). Il Giornale della Musica, January 2009
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