Michael Lewis is regarded throughout the Twin Cities and well beyond as one of the most creative sax players in modern music, lending his blowing and bowing skills to a number of highly regarded ensembles.
Growing up in Minneapolis, Michael first picked up trumpet (his dad's instrument) and then settled on saxophone at age ten. He attended South High, where he added bass to his arsenal of saxophones. But even before high school, retired band director Denny Malmberg recalls that "It was very apparent in eighth grade that Michael had what I call ‘the gift’ of music-making. I do remember he had a difficult time deciding whether he wanted to pursue baseball or play in the jazz band." Lewis began a nearly two-decade collaboration with Erik Fratzke and Dave King as Happy Apple back in 1996, just a year or two after forming Fat Kid Wednesdays with Adam Linz and JT Bates.
Lewis has been increasingly visible in New York, performing at the Stone with Happy Apple as well as with Fat Kids; and he appeared on David Letterman in connection with his 2009 tour with Andrew Bird, on which he played electric bass. He continues to lead a double life in music, playing bass with Bird, Dosh, Alpha Consumer and Red Start, and locally on saxophones with Bryan Nichols' quintet as well as with Bon Iver, Gayngs, Happy Apple, Fat Kids and recently, with Arcade Fire.
Noted Richard Brody in The New Yorker, “Lewis’s dry, metallic tone on alto and tenor and the free melodic logic of his improvisations recalls the playing of Ornette Coleman…as well as the fragmentation of mid-sixties Sonny Rollins, the quizzical assertions of the great altoist John Tchicai, and even the visionary gospel rhapsodies of Albert Ayler… Lewis’s solos, digging from melody to wail, moving from a breathy, atonal whisper to a deep, swinging groove, have a vulnerable, confessional air.” [Andrea Canter]
Bryan Nichols is a Minneapolis-based pianist and composer, working primarily in jazz and improvised music. He returned to the Twin Cities in 2005 after four busy years in Chicago where he played with jazz heavyweights like Nicole Mitchell, Ernest Dawkins, Von Freeman and Hamid Drake. Since returning to Minneapolis, he leads and composes for his own trio, his quintet and his large group, We Are Many. He also plays regularly with Gang Font, Kelly Rossum Quartet, James Buckley Trio, and Zacc Harris Quartet, in addition to being an in-demand freelancer. He teaches jazz piano at MacPhail Center for Music and University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, and he was also recently named artistic director of Jazz is NOW!, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit supporting regional music and composers.
Bryan was awarded a 2010-11 McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians, a prestigious and competitive award given to Minnesota musicians. He was also awarded a 2004 residency by Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center, given to outstanding, emerging jazz performer/composers. His work as a composer earned him a subito grant from the American Composers Forum. He has performed at most music venues in the Twin Cities and Chicago, in addition to international festivals including Sons d’Hiver (Paris, France) and Kerava Jazz Festival (Kerava, Finland) as well as local and regional festivals including the Chicago Jazz Festival and the Minnesota Sur Seine Festival. Bryan appears on recent recordings by James Buckley, Gang Font, Chris Morrissey, Gordon Johnson, Kelly Rossum, Todd Clouser, Gayngs and many more. In May 2011 Bryan released his debut recording as a leader, Bright Places, containing nine original compositions for his quintet.