Introducing Cuban Pianist, Composer, Bandleader Iván ‘Melón’ Lewis
Born in Cuba, Iván ‘Melón’ Lewis received extensive training in classical music and graduated from the prestigious National School of Art. His professional career began at the age of 20 when he began playing piano in the band of well-known Cuban salsa singer Isaac Delgado, making several international tours. Based in Madrid for the last decade, Lewis is widely known as the pianist of International star Concha Buika. He has been a featured performer at important jazz festivals around the world, sharing the stage with stars like Mulgrew Miller, Bill Mobley, John Hicks, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Wynton Marsalis, among others. Since 2003, this dazzling and versatile pianist has led his own jazz quintet, which has performed all across Europe. In 2010, he recorded Travesía with the Iván “Melón” Lewis Quintet. In 2015 he released his most recent recording, Ayer y Hoy. Is for this project that Mr. Lewis has received a nomination for the upcoming Latin Grammy Awards in the Best Latin Jazz Album category. Not only that, he has also been nominated as Best New Artist.
Iván ‘Melón’ Lewis: Biography In The First Person
It all began at the age of 8 when I had to choose an instrument to commence my musical education. It was either the violin or the piano. I chose the piano. Mastering an instrument takes a very long time, so the ensuing years were hard but crucial and little by little, I improved. I was captivated by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Debussy as much as, Bill Evans, Bola de Nieve, Keith Jarrett and Ernesto Lecuona. Eventually, I got my first break to play the piano in a local Havana band. I was 15 and scared to death, but I seized the opportunity and got a lot out of it. My first impacting lesson was that there are things in life, which cannot be taught in a classroom.
I was still a student at 21 when Issac Delgado, salsa singer and leader of one of the top bands in Cuba, came looking for me. I couldn’t believe it. My friends and I would listen all the time to his ensemble, which was already one of my favorites! To this day, I am still in awe of that moment. After several years with Isaac, and almost without realizing it, I noticed that young pianists were beginning to imitate my style. They would ask me about my views on piano playing and even more strange, was when visiting music schools, I would hear the kids play my tumbaos, it was incredible.
I then left for Spain, where things started off very rocky. I lived with my older brother, who had been there for some time, but I didn’t know anyone in the business and there was little or no work. It was the late 90’s and everybody spoke and speculated about what would happen when we hit the year 2000. Personally I was lost and felt sad in a country that hadn’t yet opened its doors to me. To make ends meet I worked odd jobs: delivering newspapers, waiting tables at a bar and doing other menial tasks, some of which were difficult but taught life-long lessons.
Finally, I was able to save up enough money to buy my first piano in Spain; however that brought its own problems as my neighbors did not take too kindly to my consistent practicing. On a few occasions, I had to make a concerted effort to explain to the police that there was no party going on, instead I was a musician trying to perfect his craft. During this time, I had to constantly remind myself that the tremendous difficulties I faced would pass and there would be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Eventually things started to look up and I got a job playing the piano for a TV music show. My motivation and optimism grew as I progressively returned to the place I felt most at ease; the stage.
In 2007, I was introduced to a young woman who was very shy but enormously talented with an extraordinary personality. She is one of those singers who is able to express so much emotion with her voice. “Hello, I’m Concha”, was all she said. And that was the beginning of a professional relationship which; note by musical note, concert after concert, bloomed into a most fortunate pilgrimage on almost every stage on earth.
Meeting ‘Buika’, as she is known in the music world was a turning point in my career. Everything changed after that. I have worked with her for the past 7 years which has helped me understand volumes and has also brought me closer to flamenco and copla, the Spanish genres par excellence. Musically, we immersed ourselves in jazz, experimented with world music, danced boleros, rumbas, and fused them all until we created our own sound.
As my own personal and professional journey continues, I find myself at a moment I have always desired; to chart my own course. My latest project is to craft music that will connect with audiences by creating the perfect tone allowing imaginations to run free in every possible direction, and to have joy permeate throughout each and every listener.
“Hello, I’m Iván ‘Melón’ Lewis”, is all I’ll say. See you on stage
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