ABOVE: Mundell Lowe and Putte Wickman at MJF25, 1982 ©MJF Archives/Bruce Talamon
The great guitarist Mundell Lowe passed away on December 2, 2017 at age 95. Aside from being a consummate player—one of the first generation of guitarists who ‘cracked’ the bebop code—he was a NBC staff musician beginning in 1950; wrote music for TV and films; and recorded as a sideman with everyone from Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Carmen McRae, Ben Webster, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, and many others. Mundell introduced pianist Bill Evans to Orrin Keepnews, resulting in Bill’s first recordings for the Riverside label in the mid-50s.
Mundell was also closely associated with the Monterey Jazz Festival during the 1970s and 1980s, as a member of the Monterey Jazz Festival ‘house’ band for 15 years. In 1981, he became the festival’s musical director, in partnership with Jimmy Lyons, when Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis retired after 25 years.
An education program that is one of the cores of the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Traveling Clinicians, was started under Mundell’s supervision, under the direction of MJF board member Ruth Fenton.
“Mundell meant so much to me since the early days of my tenure with Monterey,” said Paul Contos, MJF’s Education Director. “It was Mundy’s voice on my old (cassette-driven) phone machine, asking if I could be on this team for a new venture of teaching MJF was bringing jazz professionals out to schools to demonstrate skills to students. The ‘team’ originally consisted of trumpeter Bill Berry, drummer Vince Lateano, Mundell, and myself.”
“Mundell was a true ‘southern gentleman’ in every sense of the word, and imbued an elegant comportment in his relationships throughout the music business. His friends all know he assisted the start of many jazz careers, most notably that of bringing Bill Evans out into public awareness.”
“I remember Mundell as ALWAYS being encouraging, supportive, candid, unaffected, and HEROIC to those of us carving out the mechanics of hands-on jazz education, and in our careers. I learned something from Mundell every opportunity I had to work with him, and valued his refined jazz acumen, let alone his charm, wry wit and experienced insight.”
“I was so delighted to have gotten back in touch about seven years ago via email, when he became nearly blind, but was dictating emails and having them read to him,” says Contos. Mundell Lowe personified the ‘Muse’ and joy of jazz to the very end of his graceful 95 years.”
Thank you to Mundell Lowe for his lifetime of music, dedication to the artform, and audiences worldwide. He will be missed.