Mundell Lowe Biography

Mundell James Lowe, 21 April 1922, Laurel, Mississippi, USA. Guitarist Lowe began playing at the age of six; seven years later, he left home and headed for New Orleans, Louisiana. He listened and learned at many of the city’s clubs before he was found by his Baptist minister father and taken back home. He soon made another try for an early career in music, this time visiting Nashville where he played in the Pee Wee King band. Taken home again he graduated from school in 1940 and promptly joined the Jan Savitt band. Drafted for military service, Lowe was posted to a camp near New Orleans. At a nearby camp the entertainments officer was John Hammond Jnr. and their meeting helped Lowe establish his career after the war.

Hammond introduced him to Ray McKinley who was leading the post-war Glenn Miller band and thereafter the guitarist worked with Benny Goodman, Wardell Gray, Fats Navarro and Red Norvo among many leading jazz musicians. During the late 40s and early 50s, Lowe worked mostly in New York, playing club dates and recording sessions with a remarkable array of top-flight artists, including Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday. During the 50s Lowe played in the NBC studio orchestra, was musical director on the Today show on television, acted on and off Broadway and continued to play and record with such well-known jazz musicians as Georgie Auld, Ruby Braff, Ben Webster, Carmen McRae and Harold Ashby.

From 1965, Lowe was based in Los Angeles, again working in television and radio and also establishing himself as a writer of scores for films and television. He also became active as an educator but despite his busy schedule found time to continue his recording career, accompanying such musically diverse artists as Sammy Davis Jnr. , Tony Bennett, Bill Berry, Richie Kamuca and many others. In the early 80s he formed a small band he named TransitWest, in which he was joined by Sam Most, Monty Budwig and Nick Ceroli, which made its first major appearance at the 1983 Monterey Jazz Festival. A quietly elegant player with a cool but surging swing, Lowe’s playing style, with its deceptively sparse exploration of the often-overlooked subtleties of many standards from the jazz and popular song repertoires, is in the great tradition of jazz guitar. Nevertheless, his experimentations with 12-tone compositions have also put him in the forefront of jazz-guitar thinking.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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