Local jazz legend to perform concert

Music lovers in Port Orchard looking to add a little fun to their Sunday evening are invited to the Peninsula Beverage Co., where musician, author and composer Mark Lewis plans to give his audience a true jazz experience.

Lewis has taken his mastery of the alto saxophone, baritone sax, flute and piano from coast to coast and beyond in his 40-plus years in the jazz industry. Born in Tacoma in 1958, Lewis quickly found a love for music, practicing and performing with different bands through his time at South Kitsap High School.

Lewis has since authored over 1,700 compositions, recorded and produced over 30 albums on multiple labels, and currently works in and operates a makeshift studio near downtown Bremerton.

Lewis said that his lifelong devotion to the music helped him become as good as he is today, saying “Jazz is so difficult to play. It’s not difficult for me now because I’ve been playing it all my life, but for many people, it is very difficult. The worst part about playing jazz is that the musicians are the hardest on you behind your back, not to your face, in the United States. In Holland, it’s to your face. That’s how come I got good.”

Another major challenge for Lewis’ journey was his troubling eyesight. He was born with congenital cataracts, and despite being given limited sight through many surgeries, remains legally blind. Yet that did not stop Lewis from venturing the world; he even settled in The Netherlands, for 14 years, despite only having $500 in his pocket to get him there. Lewis said that he overcame those obstacles because music comes first with him.

“I don’t wanna have a family, so I don’t have one. I don’t want to have a house, so I don’t have one. I wanna play music until the money runs out,” he said.

Lewis also pointed out the amount of influence black jazz musicians had on his career, including Buddy Catlett and Otis “Candy” Finch. “I’ve always respected black people,” he said. “Here’s a group of people who have been taken as slaves, brought to the United States, a foreign land, separated from each other so they couldn’t talk to each other, had no common language, and yet, within a hundred years, produced music that was the highest music in the world.”

The series in Port Orchard will also feature different guest musicians each night to accompany Lewis. Bassist and pianist David Friesen, who will take part in the series July 31, has produced over 80 albums in his jazz career and has performed all over the world. He said that he enjoys playing with Lewis.

“Mark has a great personality and a great energy when he plays the music,” Friesen said. “I don’t do this with anyone else. Just Mark.”

Pianist Bill Anschell, who was inducted in the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame in 2016, will join Lewis July 24. He said that the live concert will help get the word out about the genre of jazz, especially to an audience that seems to favor rock and hip hop.

“Certainly the older kind of (jazz) styles are not in their heyday,” he said, “but in some ways, you could say this is a growth period for the music because there are so many jazz programs at colleges and universities.”

One musician who has already played his session with Lewis is pianist Randy Halberstadt, who has been a major figure for jazz in the Pacific Northwest for years. He said that those who attended his duet with Lewis should continue to attend the series, as jazz can give a whole new experience every time you listen to it.

“When you go to a jazz concert, it’s gonna be different every time,” Halberstadt said. “You could have the same musicians playing the same concert three nights in a row. Every time they take a solo, it’s gonna be different. It’s an adventure.”

The concerts will take place each Sunday in July from 4-7 p.m. No cover is required, but only those 21 and older will be allowed in. Details can be found at marklewismusic.com.