John Lewis was born in La Grange, Illinois, and after his parents’ divorce moved with his mother, a trained singer, to Albuquerque, New Mexico when he was two months old. She died from peritonitis when he was four and he was raised by his grandmother and great-grandmother. He began learning classical music and piano at the age of seven. His family was musical and had a family band that allowed him to play frequently and he also played in a Boy Scout music group. Even though he learned piano by playing the classics, he was exposed to jazz from an early age because his aunt loved to dance and he would listen to the music she played. Once Lewis moved to New York, Clarke introduced him to Dizzy Gillespie‘s bop-style big band. He successfully auditioned by playing a song called “Bright Lights” that he had written for the band he and Clarke played for in the army. The tune he originally played for Gillespie, renamed “Two Bass Hit”, became an instant success. Lewis composed, arranged and played piano for the band from 1946 until 1948 after the band made a concert tour of Europe. When Lewis returned from the tour with Gillespie’s band, he left it to work individually. Lewis was an accompanist for Charlie Parker and played on some of Parker’s famous recordings, such as “Parker’s Mood” (1948) and “Blues for Alice” (1951), but also collaborated with other prominent jazz artists such as Lester Young, Ella Fitzgerald and Illinois Jacquet.