Loston Harris at Bemelman’s Bar

Five nights this week (Tuesday through Saturday) I will be performing with the Great Loston Harris at Bemelman’s Bar. This is an amazing experience. Please come out and mingle with celebrities as we explore the magic of the Great American Songbook. 

Loston Harris Trio at Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel
35 East 76th St., New York,
New York 10021
T: +1 212 744 1600
Tuesday – Saturday June 11 – 15
Loston Harris – piano and vocals
Mike Lee – Saxophone
Gianluca Renzi – Bass
9:30 pm until 12:30 am  (1:00 pm Fri & Sat)

What follow is a reprint of a post I made back in December about the gig with Loston:

For the past six years I’ve been playing regularly in the Loston Harris Trio. I started subbing in the band at Bemelman’s bar at the Carlyle Hotel and then doing most of the band’s road work and finally becoming the regular saxophonist about three years ago. I’m surprised that even though I play about 80 gigs a year with Loston,many people with whom I interact often aren’t aware of this trio or our regular venue – Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Here’s the low-down:

Loston is brilliant. As a pianist he is exceptional – Early in his career he toured and recorded with Wynton Marsalis. On our instrumental selections he plays with fire and technical facility that would rival any pianist. As a vocalist he is sublime with a deep affinity for Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. He deals with the nuance of lyrics and standard repertoire with a professionalism and ease that makes him one of the brightest stars of jazz and the American Songbook.

Loston Harris Trio at Bemelman’s

The gig at Bemelman’s Bar is magical. Named in honor of Ludwig Bemelmans, the creator of the classic Madeline children’s books, the club features his artwork on the walls and even on the lampshades at your table.   We play jazz. We play some instrumental tunes every set from Thelonious Monk, Benny Golson, Dave Brubeck and many others. The vocal selections also can have long solo sections where we stretch and “work it out” on the gig. We’re set up in the middle of the room where we are part of the crowd. The crowd is part of the atmosphere. Movie stars, musical celebrities, political figures show up with great regularity. By no stretch is this a “listening” room, but every night we “win” the room by turning the boisterous crowd into an appreciative audience. It feels like a throwback to the 1930’s with an adoring crowd cheering, shouting, and having great merriment.

This is a musically demanding situation. I’ve learned more from this gig than any other gig or situation in my life. Playing night after night, learning the ins and outs of so much amazing repertoire with two inventive intelligent, enthusiastic band mates (the great Gianluca Renzi plays bass!) has caused me to dig deeper and hear more music than I ever thought I would at this advanced stage of my career. There is no teacher like a nightly gig. Playing at Bemelman’s 3, 4, or 5 nights a week for two and a half months twice a year has been a revelation.

It’s not cheap. There is a $25 cover weeknights and $35 on the weekends ($15 at the bar) and the drinks are expensive. But I feel every music fan needs to see this place at least once to see music in close proximity to a real engaged crowd.

Nat Adderley Jr. Quartet at Clements Place – This Friday!

The Nat Adderley Jr. Quartet just back from Austin, Texas where we performed a tribute concert to Nancy Wilson with wonderful singers from the area. Nat is an amazing musician and musical spirit. His sense of humor and generosity spill over into all facets of his personality and musicality. We will be performing repertoire from Nat’s tenure with the iconic Luther Vandross, as well as music associated with the Adderley legacy. The cover is FREE – there are even refreshments for FREE and it’s just a few minutes from the Montclair/Oranges area in the heart of Newark. Even though there is no cost, you must reserve a seat for this likely-to-be-sold-out event.

Fri, June 7, 2019
7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
Clement’s Place
15 Washington Street
Newark, NJ 07102

Clement’s Place is pleased to present music legend Nat Adderley Jr., best known for his work with the great Luther Vandross.

About this Event

Clement’s Place is pleased to present music legend Nat Adderley Jr., best known for his work with the great Luther Vandross. He wrote and arranged Luther’s first top 20 pop hit, Stop to Love and other hits, including Wait for Love, and the Grammy-nominated Give Me the Reason. Nat also arranged many of Luther’s most popular records, including Superstar, Here and Now, If Only for One Night, Creepin’, If This World Were Mine, So Amazing, There’s Nothing Better Than Love, Never Too Much, and Love Won’t Let Me Wait. Nat was Luther’s musical director from 1981 until his death.

A member of jazz royalty, (his father Nat, Sr. and his uncle Julian “Cannonball” were superstars), Nat has also lent his talents to other artists including Kirk Whalum, Natalie Cole, Johnny Gill, Aretha Franklin, Gloria Lynne, the Temptations, Ruben Studdard, Paulette McWilliams, Jaheim, and Doc Powell.

Recently, Nat has returned to his jazz roots, recording with Jay Hoggard and Nicholas Bearde and performing in clubs and festivals in New York, California, Asia, and Europe with Tom Scott, clarinetist Don Byron, Eric Darius, as well as with his own quartet and in solo performances.

Nat brings his signature blend of soul infused, swinign jazz to his Clement’s Place debut.

Don’t miss this great evening!

Free and open to the public

Seating is limited

Brown Bear Pub This Wednesday – Show your support

This Wednesday at Brown Bear Pub in West Orange – our weekly jam session will featured virtuosos Billy Drummond on drums and Steve LaSpina on bass. We will play a short set at 8:00 pm and the open jam session will begin at 9:00 pm until about 11:45. This is probably the last weekly jam for a while. Due to my schedule in June and other events at the club – we will be taking a hiatus until July.

The location of this pub in West Orange – 104 Harrison Ave. – is very accessible to Montclair. It was formerly known as Egans – West Orange. The sound is great and the food is great. We hope to see lots of friends there this week.

To stay up to date on my Wednesday night jam session please join our facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/mikeleejam/

June is Jumpin’

June is packed with musical events with some of my favorite musicians. We’re staying local for most of the month, so if you’re in the New Jersey/New York area – please stop through to one (or more) of these gigs!

June Itinerary:
June 1 (Sat) Candlelight Lounge w/ Peter Lin 3:30-7:30
June 1 (Sat) Bemelman’s Bar with Loston Harris 9:30 – 1:00
June 5 Wednesday Jam Brown Bear Pub
June 6 (Thurs) Bemelman’s Bar w/ Loston Harris 9:30 – 12:30
June 7 (Friday) Clement’s Place w/Nat Adderley Jr. 7:30 
June 8 (Sat) Bemelman’s Bar w/ Loston Harris 9:30 – 1:00
June 11 (Tues) Bemelman’s Bar w/ Loston Harris 9:30 – 12:30
June 12 (Wed) Bemelman’s Bar w/Loston Harris 9:30 – 12:30
June 12 (Wed) Wednesday Jam Brown Bear Pub Featuring Bruce Williams 8 pm – 11:45 pm
June 13 (Thurs) Bemelman’s Bar w/Loston Harris 9:30 – 12:30
June 14 (Fri) Bemelman’s Bar w/ Loston Harris 9:30 – 1:00
June 15 (Sat) Bemelman’s Bar w/ Loston Harris 9:30 – 1:00
June 16 (Sun) Jazz Standard Mike Lee Family Affair 12:30 -2
June 18 (Tues) Smalls with Frank Lacy 10:30 – 1:00
June 19 (Wed) Bemelman’s Bar w/Loston Harris 9:30 – 12:30
June 20 (Thurs) Bemelman’s Bar w/Loston Harris 9:30 – 12:30
June 21 (Fri) Bemelman’s Bar w/ Loston Harris 9:30 – 1:00
June 22 (Sat) Bemelman’s Bar w/ Loston Harris 9:30 – 1:00
June 23 (Sun) Judy Garland show Paramount Asbury 7p
June 25 (Tues) Bemelman’s Bar w/ Loston Harris 9:30 – 12:30
June 26 (Wed) Django w/ Josh Evans Big Band 
June 27 (Thurs) Bemelman’s Bar w/Loston Harris 9:30 – 12:30
June 28 (Fri) Bemelman’s Bar w/ Loston Harris 9:30 – 1:00
June 29 (Sat) Bemelman’s Bar w/ Loston Harris 9:30 – 1:00

Venue Information:

Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel
35 E 76th St, New York, NY 10021
(212) 744-1600

Clement’s Place
15 Washington St, Newark, NJ 07102
(973) 923-0340

Jazz Standard
116 E 27th St, New York, NY 10016
(212) 576-2232

The Django
2 6th Ave, New York, NY 10013
(212) 519-6649

Brown Bear Pub:
104 Harrison Ave
West Orange, NJ

An Amazing Week! (and the Great Reveal)

This week is full of interesting gigs and events. I hope to see you this week!

Monday April 22nd – After a day of master classes with Christian McBride, Ted Chubb, Rebecca Harris, and me, the Young Traditions Vermont String Ensemble and my Jazz house Kids Ambassadors combo (with special guest – Jacquie Lee!) perform at the Van Vleck house in Montclair. 21 Van Vleck St, Montclair, NJ 07042. Reception at 6:00 pm Concert at 7:00 pm.

Tuesday April 23 – Frank Lacy Smalls Jazz Club NYC. New music penned by Frank Lacy and reworking of Henry Threadgill’s sextet music. Come see his genius in action. Frank Lacy, trombone/trumpet – Mike Lee, woodwinds – Brian Simontacchi, trombone – Akua Dixon, cello – James Robbins, bass – Wen-ting Wu, drums – Brandon Lewis, drums. Smalls Jazz Club|183 West 10th Street|New York City, New York| Smalls does not take reservations – it is a first come/first serve admission policy. Cover:$20 Per Set $10 Students Sets at 10:30 and Midnight.


April 24th – Mike Lee Jam Continues at the Brown Bear Pub 104 Harrison Street, West Orange NJ. No Cover. House Band 8:00 pm – Jam 9:00 until 11:45. With Ed Howard, Vince Ector.

April 25th & 26th – Bemelman’s Bar with Loston Harris and Gianluca Renzi at the Carlyle Hotel. 76th and Madison NYC. 9:30 pm to 12:30 am (1:00 am on Friday).

April 27th – Frank Lacy CHAMBER MUSIC AT ST. ANDREW’S OFFERS KU-UMBA FRANK LACY CONCERT JAZZ ENSEMBLE Sat. April 27, 7:30 pm – free. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church is located at 5277 State Route 42 in South Fallsburg, NY

APR 22 Mon– String Masterclass and Student performance Jazz House Kids
APR 23 Tue 10:30 pm – 1:00 am Frank Lacy Ensemble @ Smalls
April 24th Wed 8:00 pm – 11:45 pm Mike Lee Jam Brown Bear Pub
APR 25 Thu 9:30 pm – 12:30 am Loston Harris Trio @ Bemelman’s Bar
APR 26 Fri 9:30 pm – 1:00 am Loston Harris Trio @ Bemelman’s Bar
APR 27 Sat – Frank Lacy Ensemble -St Andrew’s Episcopal Church

Secrets from a Jam Session Leader

Most jazz musicians have attended many jam sessions. Few of us have hosted a recurring jam session over a long time period. Here are some things I’d like you to consider:

Hosting is hard. There are many points of consideration when trying run a jam session that might not ever cross the mind of the average session attendee. It is important to remain a good positive rapport with the musicians you hire for the house band, with the regular fans, with younger participating musicians, with established/known musicians who might stop through, and with the servers, bartenders, and owner of the venue. Each of these groups might have a different set of needs and agendas. I often joke that the trick is not to try to please everyone, but just to decide who you’re going to piss off tonight. The understanding of the chemistry and interdependence of each of these categories of people is what sets a good jam session apart from a great one.

I want you to succeed. I want you to have a great musical and social experience which rewards your love for the music and challenges you to increase your skills and understanding of the music. Try to understand if things don’t exactly as you hoped this week. There might be 600 other considerations I’m juggling at that moment.

I’m your host. Please say hello and goodbye. It’s courteous and helps me know if I’m on the right track providing a valuable event.

Competition has it’s place. Most of the greatest musicians had storied “battles” that helped create their legend. These battles often happened at jam sessions. If you feel “defeated” or “cut” – come back next week and reclaim your stake.

Buy something. The venue is providing the scene and the lights and electricity. They are counting on your business. An appetizer and a soda go well with a late night set.

It’s cool to let me know you’d like someday to play in the house band, but it often puts me in an awkward place. I have a fairly regular rotation of players I use and I have spent a lot of time and energy cultivating a nice network of professionals whom I can count on for many reasons. Throwing a new cat into the mix isn’t always as easy as it seems. It’s not that your not KILLING IT!, but it’s not as easy as it seems.

It’s cool to come and hang out and listen to all the players without sitting in. I feel so many people are so apprehensive about sitting in that they’d rather sit home than come participate as listeners. But you can gain a lot of information just observing.

Play short – it’s a winning formula. Play one less chorus than you think and people will love you.

Young cats – please forgive me when I forget your name or don’t recognize you. I meet 100 new people every week. And you grew a beard or lost 50 pounds. It can throw me off!

Hope to see you this Wednesday, April 24th at Brown Bear Pub in West Orange!

How “Vibing” Works at a Jam Session

One of the most common complaints I hear about jam sessions is that someone was “vibed” or someone was “vibing.” That is to say, people feel that they were unduly judged or spurned by the leaders or co-participants of the jam session. Everyone has a story. It’s an epidemic – or so it would seem. “Vibing” is discussed as a reality. “I WAS VIBED” is declared as if it were a measurable, provable condition, which has a specific and objectively defined set of criteria that had been assessed by an omniscient committee of accomplished yet compassionate observers who passed along their findings to the “victim” of said vibing so that these victims could declare the injustice to the world. A more reasonable understanding of the phenomenon of being “vibed” only means that a participant wasn’t received in the manner in which he/she feels is appropriate based on his/her own estimation of his/her own abilities and status. The “reception” they are looking for can include the immediacy of their invitation to play by the session host, the players they are paired with, the crowd response at the conclusion of their solo, or the enthusiasm of the other musicians to meet them and exchange contact information. But the interpretation of these criteria is very difficult to quantify.

As a young musician attending jam sessions back in the day, I was frequently disappointed with the reception I received. And it was tempting to claim I was the victim of “vibing” but I found it much more tempting to regroup and return to a situation better prepared to receive the type of reception I wanted. My move to New York from the midwest as a young musician was a real eye opener. In my hometown, I was used to a certain reception at jam sessions. It was a big-fish/small-pond situation. Once in New York, the (seeming) complete indifference to my performances was hard to take. But perseverance paid off and eventually I became part of the jam session scene. Then I started to get work based on the networking that would take place at jams. This process was painful at times but ultimately rewarding.

My message in writing this post is this: stop assessing whether or not you receive the accolades you deserve. This is a fruitless activity for two reasons: 1) you can’t objectively assess your performance and 2) you can’t objectively assess your reception. So rather than kvetch about the “vibe,” be the vibe you seek. Bring the joy and energy with whomever you are paired; be a joyful listener; become familiar with the repertoire that is being performed; bring a sense of community and sharing and enjoy the reward of playing the greatest music in the world. Remember that frequency breeds fellowship and a sense of belonging to a scene bigger than yourself. Be a regular. Your presence can sway the session towards your vision.


March ended on a high note as we accelerate into busy season!

Dave Stryker Quartet March 30th

After our CD release at Dizzy’s, I was thrilled to come back home to Montclair last Saturday night and play with Dave Stryker at our local landmark, Trumpets Jazz Club. It was Dave’s birthday celebration and the place was filled to the rafters! It was exciting to play for so many friends and neighbors. Dave is churning out more great music and has already recorded two albums this year which are due for release this spring. I had fun helping him work up the music for these releases and was delighted to perform much of this music at Trumpets. Trumpets has been a vital part of our musical culture and I was saddened to learn that it has been put up for sale. Here’s hoping the new owners take up the mantle of Kristine Massari and Enrico Granafei and keep presenting world-class jazz music.

This weekend I’m looking forward to performing again with the legendary pianist/composer and former musical director for Luther Vandross, Nat Adderley Jr. Saturday April 6th at 2 pm at the Montclair Museum of Art.

Sunday, I’ll be in Morristown for the New Jersey Jazz Society 50th Annual Pee Wee Russell Memorial Stomp at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. First I’ll be directing my Jazz House Kids Ambassadors ensemble at noon, then joining Andy Farber and a a great line up of saxophonist for a battle royal at 1:15.

Then Wednesday is my birthday celebration at Small’s Jazz Club in New York City. Smalls is one of the greatest jazz clubs in the world and I’m excited to celebrate with my trio – Ed Howard on bass, and Alvester Garnett on drums plus added guest Julian Lee on Saxophone. Thursday the same band will make it’s way to New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Jazz Project’s Thursday night at the Hyatt. Later this month the Loston Harris Trio begins it’s spring residency at Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel. See the full April Calendar here

March and April are decision time and I’m so excited for my students who have successfully auditioned at The Juilliard School, New England Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, and many other fine institutions. It’s been a banner year for the students of Jazz House Kids!

April Dates Announced!

Spring is here and so is a full Schedule of musical activity. Be sure to check out the frequently updated calendar

APR 6 Sat 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm Nat Adderley Jr. – Praise Groove w/Jazz Montclair Art Museum
APR 7 Sun 12:00 pm – 2:30 pm New Jersey Jazz Society 50th Annual Pee Wee Russell Memorial Stomp @ Hyatt Regency
APR 10 Wed 10:30 pm – 1:00 am Smalls Jazz – Mike Lee Birthday Celebration! @ Smalls Jazz Club
APR 11 Thu 8:00 pm – 11:00 pm New Brunswick Jazz Project @ Hyatt Regency
APR 12 Fri Sparta High School Jazz Festival, Adjudicator
APR 13 SatNewark Academy Essentially Ellington Festival Adjudicator
April 14 Sun Montclair State University Combos at Shanghai Jazz Club
APR 18 Thu 9:30 pm – 12:30 am Loston Harris Trio @ Bemelman’s Bar
APR 19 Fri 9:30 pm – 1:00 am Loston Harris Trio @ Bemelman’s Bar
APR 20 Sat 9:30 pm – 1:00 am Loston Harris Trio @ Bemelman’s Bar
APR 22 Mon– String Masterclass and Student performance Jazz House Kids
APR 23 Tue 10:30 pm – 1:00 am Frank Lacy Ensemble @ Smalls
APR 25 Thu 9:30 pm – 12:30 am Loston Harris Trio @ Bemelman’s Bar
APR 26 Fri 9:30 pm – 1:00 am Loston Harris Trio @ Bemelman’s Bar
APR 27 Sat – Frank Lacy Ensemble – time and venue TBA

Dizzy’s Success!

Dizzy’s CD release performance March 25, 2019. Photo: Chris Drukker

Drum icon Lenny White continued his enthusiastic support for this project by playing the music with equal parts nuance and power. Releasing this album on his IYOUWEE label has been a tremendous privilege.
We are in the midst of the radio and media promotion for the album. I couldn’t have asked for a better advocate.

Ed Howard and the Broken String!
Photo: Chris Drukker

Joining me in the front line was my son, and New York saxophonist, Julian Lee. He wasn’t only an extraordinary asset as an intelligent creative artist, but also helped focus me and took the pressure off in many mundane ways. Dizzy’s was Julian’s home for two years when he hosted the late night session there. The people of Dizzy’s, from the administration and mangers, to the servers, bartenders, security personnel are like family to Julian and by extension to me.

With Jacquie
Photo: Chris Drukker

My first gig as a leader at the famed Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola is in the books. What a night it was! Playing against a backdrop of Columbus Circle and Central Park with some of my favorite musicians in celebration of my New CD was everything one could ask for. The wonderful fans, family, and students who packed the club to capacity made it even more wonderful.

Lenny White
Photo: Chris Drukker

George Colligan, piano, and Ed Howard, bass, showed why they are two of the most versatile and in demand artists in today’s music scene. The only hitch in the whole evening happened when Ed’s A -string broke on the last note of the first tune. A potentially devastating challenge was instantly solved when the great bassist, Ben Wolfe, who was sitting at the bar offered his bass. After two minutes Ed was back in action. Ben Wolfe to the rescue!

Julian Lee on the front line
Photo: Chris Drukker
Matthew Sits in on “Hey Lock”
Photo: Chris Drukker

Matthew jumped up for the last tune – “Hey Lock” which he also performs on the record. He was swinging away! Look out for Jacquie, too!

MSU students showed up!
Photo: Chris Drukker