Gordon Lee is a composer, jazz pianist, arranger, conductor and music educator who is well known throughout the Pacific Northwest for his work in all these fields. Although he is best known for his jazz performances and compositions, Lee is active with many styles of music. He has composed a symphony; a string quartet; a symphonic band piece; a woodwind quintet; choral music; duo sonatas for violin & piano; viola & piano; cello & piano and clarinet & piano, as well as numerous small group jazz pieces, big band jazz arrangements and arrangements for many vocalists. Lee believe that jazz has given him a music language to express himself in traditional forms from European idioms of music. As an educator he has taught at Portland State University, Portland Community College, Clackamas Community College and currently at Western Oregon University (WOU). Lee continues his intent of presenting the highest quality original music while educating the public about the many potentials that music can be.
Gordon Lee was born in 1953 in New York City. His childhood was spent absorbing the popular music of that time. Suffering from insomnia, Gordon spent many nights listening to music on the radio his parents bought him. His father was a musician and while his parents were supportive of him playing music, it wasn’t something they thought he’d go into as a career. They were mainly worried that he didn’t hang out with the wrong crowd had concerns about his future. But by then it was too late. He had started playing drums in a “garage” rock and roll band at 12. His thirst for more musical knowledge led him to the piano at age 14 and he had his first professional performance 6 months later. In high school he also played the double bass and began to take a more serious look at music.
For his freshman year, Lee attended Syracuse University and later transferred to Indiana University to complete his Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition in 1976. While at Indiana he studied with a wide spectrum of teachers including: music composition with Donald Erb, Juan Orrego-Salas, John Easton and Fred Fox; jazz improvisation with David Baker; and piano with Jorge Bolet, Errica Cavallo-Gulli, and Gunter Ludwig.
Lee moved to Portland, Oregon in 1977 and began performing with Native American saxophonist, songwriter and jazz-rock fusion innovator Jim Pepper, an association that would continue until the saxophonist’s death in 1992. Together they performed throughout North American and Europe.
In 1980, Lee moved back to New York City and spent 5 years working as a jazz pianist. During this time he performed with Don Cherry, Bobby Hutcherson, Dewey Redman, Houston Person, Richie Cole, Frank Foster, Bill Frizzell, Leroy Vinegar, Bob Moses, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Bobby Vinton, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and The Temptations. But in 1985, Lee decided to escape the rat-race of New York and moved back to Portland.
He became involved with music education at the college level and joined up with Motown drummer Mel Brown band in 1986. In 1989 The Mel Brown Sextet, performing Lee’s pieces and arrangements, won the International Hennesy Jazz Search; beating out over 700 other bands from around the world. The next years Lee’s CD “Gordon Bleu” won Best Jazz Recording of 1990 from the Northwest Music Association. Lee’s association with Mel Brown continues to this day.
Members of the Oregon Symphony, big band directors, music educators and singers have commissioned Lee for original compositions and arrangements of pre-existing music. One of his jazz compositions was used in “An Occasional Hell” a major studio motion picture that starred Tom Berenger and Valeria Golino.
In 1996, Lee began his post-graduate studies at Portland State University. Hehad a graduate assistantship teaching music theory, sight-singing and ear training, group piano and coached a jazz ensemble. He studied music composition with Tomas Svoboda, piano with Harold Grey, and conducting with William Tuttle and Bruce Browne. His graduate conducting recital for his Master’s of Music in Instrumental Conducting Degree was given on March 4, 1999 and included a program of works by Stravinksy, Ives and some of Lee’s original choral music.
Gordon Lee has performed all over the world: in 1986, 1989, 1991 and 1995 at the Mt Hood Festival of Jazz, the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl in 1989, the JFK Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC in 1992; the Smithsonian Institute for Native America Art in New York City in 1995; in Paris, France, Germany and Vienna, Austria in 1991, Tokyo, Japan and Lima Peru in 1993 and Istanbul, Turkey in 1994. He performed with the Brooklyn Philharmoni under the direction of David Amram in 1993 and the Oregon Festival Symphony under Lajos Balogh in 1996 and the Oregon Symphony under Norman Leyden in 2003 and Bill Conti in 2004.
Lee has recorded his own groups during these times and been hired as a recording artist as a sideman on others. He has been a participant in the Art-in-the-Schools program since 1989. Arts in the Schools is a collaborative project between the NEW, OAC and the Metropolitan Arts Commission where Gordon provides master classes, clinics and residencies. He is the Executive Director of the Mel Brown WOU jazz workshop and won the 2006 Provost Award for Excellence in Teaching.