Considering the impact his music and powerful saxophone vibe has had on fans in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina and beyond these past years, Dante Lewis chose the perfect name for the party band he launched his professional career with: Vision. After several years of delighting audiences at private functions, the multi-talented musician renamed his ensemble the Dante Lewis Vision Band and began headlining on the local club scene. Renowned music producer Byron Counts became a big fan and began filling in occasionally on keyboards. Counts, who has worked with, among others, CeCe Peniston, also convinced Lewis to branch out and become a recording artist—a vision fulfilled with the release of the saxman’s smooth urban jazz debut album that truly lives up to its title, Set The Mood.
Driven by the philosophy “groove comes first” and drawing soul inspiration from his chief influences Kirk Whalum and Grover Washington, Jr., Lewis fashions an inviting mix of sensual and funky on a set that blends a batch of uniquely arranged classic R&B cover songs, three original tunes penned by Count and a title track written by Rod King--who sets the mood with a dreamy ambience behind one of Lewis’ most heartfelt performances. It’s a testament to Count’s writing and production and Lewis’ rich, emotional horn style that the originals feel right at home alongside legendary songs by Luther Vandross, Al Green and Stevie Wonder. Gospel music has been a part of Lewis’ life since he began playing at age 12, and the saxman graciously includes the beautiful closing tune “Only What You Do For Christ Will Last” to honor that part of his musical soul. That song is the perfect set up for Lewis’ recently released, critically acclaimed debut gospel jazz album Songs of a Servant, which features vocals by many of the saxophonist’s friends, including the pastor at his congregation, Bethlehem Baptist Church.
Lewis has already been featured in Lux Millionaire Magazine, Columbia Metropolitan Magazine and California’s “Urban Scene” Magazine as a featured hot new artist. “Like most musicians, my goal is always to touch as many people as possible through my playing and performing,” he says. “Byron was instrumental in helping me see the possibilities of a career in urban jazz that extends beyond my success as a regional artist. He saw the way I interact with the crowds in Columbia and said he could see me doing this on a national level. We set out to create a top-notch debut recording, and the music on Set The Mood exceeds all expectations I had going into the recording. It’s exciting to now be a full-fledged recording artist and I’m thrilled to be part of the smooth jazz world. Kirk Whalum’s career is my inspiration, and I can see myself patterning a dual career in jazz and gospel after him. They cross over very easily.”
Although Dante concentrates on headlining solo performances at such local Columbia hotspots as The Blue Martini and Rust, he has also performed on stage with numerous R&B and contemporary jazz greats, including Ashford and Simpson, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Kirk Whalum, Norman Brown, Will Donato, Paul Jackson Jr., Pieces Of A Dream, Angela Winbush, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Lamar Campbell, Daniel D, Terence Young, and Sam Jenkins. He has performed in Columbia at The Rowan Arts Festival, The Koger Center, Township Auditorium and Midland’s Tech Theatre, in Omaha, Nebraska at Metro Community College and opened a show for Whalum at Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Rowans Arts Festival – Salisbury, NC
Finlay Park Jazz Concert Series – Columbia, SC
North Charleston Arts Festival – Charleston, SC
Carolina Jazz Concert Series – Charlotte, NC (opened for Kirk Whalum)
Legends Jazz Series – Columbia, SC (opened for Ashford and Simpson)
Carolina Jazz Concert Series – Charlotte, NC (with Norman Brown)
Legends Jazz Series – Columbia, SC (opened/did master class with Kenny Babyface Edmonds)
Omaha Blues, Jazz and Gospel Concert – Omaha, NE (opened for Paul Jackson Jr. and Will Donato)
South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council World Aids Day – Columbia, SC (opened for Angela Winbush and Pieces of A Dream)
Lewis lives up to his “the groove comes first” motto from the first beats leading into a super funked up twist on Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much”, which features a touch of mystical synth amidst the soaring funky sax and bass groove. After a dreamy, easygoing silk version of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” (featuring a cool breathy sax vibe by Lewis), the ambience for a perfect evening continues on a unique cover of SWV’s “Rain,” which is based on Jaco Pastorius’ “Portrait of Tracy.” Lewis’ soulful sax passion is complemented by Counts’ moody atmospheres and a dripping water effect. Written by Stevie Wonder and later covered by Luther Vandross, “Knocks Me Off My Feet” has been enjoyed by different generations. Lewis’ take is a deep grooving, mid tempo ballad featuring soulful backing vocals and swirling sax lines. The Counts original “Say What I Gotta Say” is a cool mid tempo vocal ballad featuring old school keyboard textures (including a prominent Fender Rhodes harmony) and a powerfully emotional voice-sax combination. Counts also penned the similarly retro but much more grooving “Midnight Ride”, whose bubbly bassline underscores a sax melody that rises into the night. After a sweet trip down memory lane with a lush, Quiet Storm type run through “What A Wonderful World”, the title track “Set The Mood” finds Lewis creating cool emotional drama with a soothing and sensual low toned sax melody. After “Fingertips”, a sweet and romantic, easy grooving ballad, Lewis wraps the set with the heartfelt inspirational tune “Only What You Do For Christ Will Last”, allowing a small choir of vocalists to share the gospel while the saxman underscores the emotional message with his powerful sax.
FROM THE BEGINNING
Dante Lewis has been wowing audiences throughout the Carolinas since the age of 12 with an unmistakably passionate sound, his engaging personality and a lifelong passion for music. A graduate of Eau Claire High School, he studied at USC Spartanburg but took time off from school to pursue his true calling as a musician. In 2003, Dante started the band “Vision”, a party and jazz group that performed at weddings, banquets, parties and other major social events. Focusing on his solo career, he has recorded both Set The Mood and the gospel CD Songs of a Servant, which, since its release in August 2011, has been featured on more than 300 internet radio sites and radio stations in the United States, as well as internationally. As a man of God, Lewis is the former Minister of Music at St. Luke Baptist Church in Winnsboro and is currently a musician at Bethlehem Baptist Church. The devoted father of three also performs for several charitable organizations and events.
“It’s rare to find a jazz artist who so successfully merges his love of soul and groove with such a rich spirituality—but Dante Lewis knows where his inspiration and blessings come from. So he’s not shy about finding ways to share both the jazz and the gospel on his infectious and super soulful first recordings. Like his idol Kirk Whalum, he artfully uses God’s gifts and puts the breath of heaven in every note, whether he’s funking up a classic Luther hit or setting the mood (what a perfect name for his debut album!) with sensual, ambient original ballads. In a world, where most artists keep the sacred and secular separate for commercial reasons, Lewis’ boldness is refreshing. Every track on Set The Mood offers something to delight the listener’s spirit and inner groove loving romantic, but you just know when you hear “Only What You Do For Christ Will Last” that you’re listening to this amazing artist’s truest heart.” – Jonathan Widran, Jazziz, All Music Guide
“It’s been said that you shouldn’t cover a familiar song unless you’ve got something to say. Saxophonist Dante Lewis says plenty on “Set the Mood”, a 10-song CD with five originals and five covers. Lewis, a former minister at a Baptist church (he released a gospel CD in 2011 titled “Songs of a Servant”), is a knockout surprise, managing to create new and familiar melodies in a fresh way. His sax is raw and polished at the same time, leading to a detour from the cookie-cutter sameness so prevalent among smooth jazz instrumentalists.
Lewis goes for it big on Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much” and Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet”, his sax both singing and soaring. His sound is more burnished and romantic on Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”, the classic “What a Wonderful World” and “Rain”, an R&B hit for the group SWV and based on a riff by jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius.
The originals, four with musical partner Byron Counts, bubble over with sophistication and sexiness; the title track (written by Rod King), “Fingertips” and “Say What I Gotta Say,” with Counts’ smooth and whispery vocals, surely do help set the mood for a romantic night in. “Midnight Ride” meanwhile, shows that Lewis can do sophisticated and smart instrumental tunes.” – Brian Soergel, JazzTimes