Mundell Lowe (April 21, 1922 – December 2, 2017) was an American jazz guitarist whose career began when he was thirteen years old. He spent many years working in radio, television, and film, and many years as a session musician. He played with Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Red Norvo, Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, Benny Carter, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Hodges, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Lee Konitz, Peggy Lee, Fats Navarro, Shirley Scott, Dinah Washington, and Ben Webster, a.o.. He produced film and TV scores in the 1970s, such as the Billy Jack soundtrack and music for Hawaii Five-O, Starsky and Hutch, and worked with André Previn's Trio in the 1990s.
The son of a Baptist minister, Lowell was raised on a farm in Laurel, Mississippi. He started playing guitar when he was eight years old, with his father and sister acting as his first teachers. When he was thirteen, he ran away from home to play with bands. Occasionally his father would find him, bring him back home, and warn him about the dangers of whiskey. At sixteen, Lowe worked in Nashville on the Grand Ole Opry radio program. He was a member of the Jan Savitt orchestra until serving in the military during World War II.
At basic training, he became friends with John Hammond, the jazz talent scout who organized weekend jam sessions. He performed in an Army dance band while in Guadalcanal. After his discharge, he called Hammond, looking for work, and Hammond sent him to Ray McKinley. He spent two years with McKinley's big band in New York City. He joined the Benny Goodman orchestra, then worked intermittently for the next few years at Café Society and other clubs in New York.
In 1950, he was hired by NBC as a staff musician. His first work at NBC was with Cy Coleman. He and Ed Shaughnessy were members of the Today Show band for thirteen years. Lowe acted in an episode of the Armstrong Circle Theatre television show that included Walter Matthau and live music by Doc Severinsen.
On the weekends he played jazz, sometimes getting permission from NBC to leave for six-month periods. In the jazz world he played with Jimmy Dorsey and Tommy Dorsey, Red Norvo, Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and Bill Evans. He composed and arranged for NBC before moving to California in 1965.
He wrote music for the TV shows Hawaii Five-O, Starsky & Hutch, and the The Wild Wild West, and the movies Billy Jack and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask. He recorded with Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan. During the 1980s, he worked with André Previn, Tete Montoliu, and the Great Guitars. For four years, he was music director of the Monterey Jazz Festival.
Lowe also worked with Benny Carter, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Hodges, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Lee Konitz, Peggy Lee, Fats Navarro, Shirley Scott, Dinah Washington, and Ben Webster. He was responsible for introducing the pianist Bill Evans to record producer Orrin Keepnews, resulting in Evans's first recordings as a leader.
He was a regular featured performer at the annual W. C. Handy Music Festival and a member of the W.C. Handy Jazz All-Stars. During the late 1970s and early 1980s he taught at the Dick Grove Music Workshop, later the Grove School of Music, in Studio City, California. He taught twelve-tone composition, film scoring, and giutar at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood.
In 1998, he was inducted into the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame. In 1999, Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, gave him an honorary Doctorate of Arts. On July 17, 2009, he returned home to Laurel, Mississippi. In recognition of a lifetime of musical achievement he was given a key to the city and honored by Mayor Melvin Mack, who proclaimed July 18, 2009 Mundell Lowe Day.
Lowe was married to singer Betty Bennett. He played on her album The Song Is You (1990) with Bob Cooper, George Cables, Monty Budwig, and Roy McCurdy.
He died on December 2, 2017.
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