Exploring the Jazz Frontier

The Lewis & Church Expedition brings Jazz into the modern era


As I sit here in the Eclectic Cafe, surrounded by the smell of freshly ground coffee and the toasting of bagels, a small rattling comes of a snare being mounted to its stand. The Lewis & Church Expedition Jazz Quartet set up their instruments on the small stage corner of the cafe, surrounded by the yellow and brown walls and the gaze of students and other community members. With Monarch teachers Pete Lewis on the sax and Clare Church on the drums and friends, Ron Jolly on the piano, Jason Malmberg on the bass, and Steve Morley with the trumpet, they come together to create music for their audience. Lewis and Church married by music, a trumpet and bass with a beard and the flowing grayed hair behind the piano, they create an atmosphere blended with the mix of tranquility and energy. A buzz emanates through the speakers as the piano is plugged in and the melodies of a warming sax echo of the glass window.

Many people would view what they do as something childish, something that angsty teenagers do, but the Expedition has been exploring for the past year together. Formed after Church asked her “dear husband” because she wanted to play with other people rather than by herself. “Woe is me, practicing alone in the basement” she said in reference to her time before the quartet. She used to be a professional saxophone player but after a battle with embouchure dystonia, a condition that affects the muscles in the mouth, halted her playing ability, she has found a new calling behind the drumset. The quartet launch into their first song with a count off and a rendition of “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music. Trumpet and sax blend together “singing” out the chorus line, a driving beat from the drums, the bass and piano layering in behind them.  Lewis and Morley effortlessly trade off on a solo that has the ability to change speeds and styles on the fly.

Lewis switches saxophones and they begin to start “Time After Time”. Taking pauses to edit their music on the fly, they adjust changing the notation as they go. This time the sax turns into the harmony as the trumpet takes over the melody. Pete later takes over for the chorus, emotion dripping in every note that flows from the bell. The song then is revamped by a drizzling piano solo. Each one of their songs takes the main melody and jazzified it, creating something that sounds familiar yet is has its own signature vibe. It’s these improved soloed moments that make every song different and engaging to the audience inside the small cafe. Malmberg bobs his head behind Church as the bass strikes out alone and as the sound waves bounce off the walls and the song returns back to it’s original roots.

Changing popular songs is one of the Expedition’s defining features. From soulful romance to the rock ballads of Queen and the pop of “Thriller”, no song is too different for them to tackle and turn into jazz. The songs change into jazzed masterpieces that could be heard even in a 1950’s jazz club. The unmistakable sound reaches the outside drawing in the passerby to listen to something new. Each member pours out their souls into every riff, creating an undeniable energy that causes the audience at the tables to nod their head to the beat and lose themselves into the sea of sound. They interact with their audience in between songs making sure that people are engaged, cracking jokes and telling stories. While most of those that are here are students or friends of these musicians, one could not deny that the combination of their eclectic personalities and engaging melodies will cause you to come back again and again. So as vibrant trills and driving beats flow through the cafe, I among the rest of the audience sit back, warm drink in hand, and let the music take us with the tide.

The Lewis & Church Expedition perform on the first Wednesday of every month at the Eclectic Cafe in Downtown Louisville