Discipline: Music Composition

James Brandon Lewis

Discipline: Music Composition
Region: Brooklyn, NY
MacDowell Fellowships: 2022

James Brandon Lewis is a critically-acclaimed composer, saxophonist, and writer. He has been described by The New York Times as “a saxophonist who embodies and transcends tradition.” Influenced by jazz legends like Sonny Rollins, he has balanced a deep, gospel-informed spirituality. Rolling Stone describes his music as having “free-jazz-abandon and hard-hitting funk-meets-hip-hop underpinning.”

Lewis has received accolades from NPR, the ASCAP Foundation, and The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. He has released several critically-acclaimed albums and tours internationally, leading several ensembles. He is co-founder of Heroes Are Gang Leaders, an American Book Award-winning poetry and jazz ensemble. James was recently voted Rising Star Tenor Saxophonist by Downbeat magazines’ 2020 international critics poll. He attended Howard University and received his M.F.A from California Institute of the Arts.

In 2011, Lewis created “molecular systematic music.” It describes a twofold approach to music – braiding together the fundamentals of music theory with the ideas of molecular biology in the context of DNA. While not himself a molecular biologist, the ideas he expresses “deploy the vocabulary of molecular biology as useful metaphors, while exploring new possibilities and relationships across disciplines.” While at MacDowell, Lewis worked on this project, gaining a “new theory of mutation as it relates to molecular biology and 12-tone we music.” Lewis is the first recipient of the University of the Arts Ph.D. in creativity scholarship where he plans to continue this work.



James Brandon Lewis worked in the MacDowell studio.

Built in 1912, Pine Studio was renamed MacDowell Studio in 1943 in recognition of support from a group of Edward MacDowell’s music students. It was built as a composers’ studio and the stuccoed walls were intended to be soundproof. Like many of the studios on property, MacDowell was winterized in the 1950s when the program began welcoming…

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