History of VJO

Founded as Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and The Jazz Orchestra
Thad Jones, who was featured in the Count Basie Orchestra, and Los Angeles based drummer Mel Lewis from the Stan Kenton Orchestra, started the band in 1966 with some of the top studio musicians in New York City. The beautiful melodies and unique arrangements of Thad Jones enchanted audiences worldwide. The mixture of the music from diverse backgrounds created their innovative sound and the band was quickly recognized as a world-class big band.

Mel Lewis and The Jazz Orchestra
In 1978, Thad Jones moved to Denmark but the band continued as Mel Lewis and The Jazz Orchestra. In addition to the masterpieces by Thad, they actively employed new and original compositions and arrangements by Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely and others. Those new arrangements were complex and avant-garde, but they stayed true to their fundamental band sound and swing. Their excellent artistry sustained and grew their high reputation.

Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
By changing its name to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the orchestra created its own identity after losing both of its leaders. The ensemble cultivated its rich history while commissioning new music that made them the prototype of innovative big band music. 2016 marks 50 years of continued performances of Monday Night Live at the world’s premiere jazz club, The Village Vanguard.

Mission Statement


Sixteen as One Music Inc., a not-for-profit 501(c)(3), was created by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra to promote the development and growth of jazz music through performances, education workshop and community outreach programs. The goals of this endeavor are: To provide performances, workshops, lectures and symposia about jazz and related musical genres in the United States and elsewhere; To help build audiences for jazz a related musical genres; To provide commissions for new and original works in jazz and related musical genres; To foster and promote jazz education in schools and under-served communities in the United States and Abroad.

For over fifty years the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (VJO), formerly the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra has been committed to engaging audiences in jazz and related American music experiences with artists of the highest caliber. The orchestra also serves as a creative outlet for some of the nation’s foremost performers, composers, and arrangers. One of the driving forces behind the longevity and artistic excellence of this ensemble is a commitment to the original Thad Jones/Mew Lewis Orchestra precepts of sound and the nurturing and encouragement of creativity and experimentation in the creators, performers and listeners of jazz.