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Michael Lewis tours with Andrew Bird, turns up on Letterman and Leno

Jazz fans of a certain stripe (we’re not talking big band or trad) are used to seeing Michael Lewis at various venues around the Twin Cities: the Artists’ Quarter and the Cedar with Happy Apple, the Clown Lounge in the basement of the Turf Club with Fat Kid Wednesdays, Café Maude with co-conspirators including Chris Thomson, Anthony Cox and J.T. Bates.

We’re not used to seeing him on “Late Night with David Letterman” or “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Or at Carnegie Hall.

That’s where he is these days, with more to come. Lewis is on tour with cult-phenom-turned-pop-star Andrew Bird, which means big audiences and big-time exposure. Watch the group on Letterman here. (Tip: Lewis is standing at the back, behind Bird. He has the longest hair.)

Here they are on Leno at

Most area jazz fans know Lewis as a rather casually dressed, saxophone-wielding monster. For his current gig, he wears a suit and plays electric bass, an instrument he picked up as a student at Minneapolis South High School, where Denny Malmberg was one of his teachers.

“It was very apparent in eighth grade that Michael had what I call ‘the gift’ of music-making,” Malmberg recalls. “I do remember he had a difficult time deciding whether he wanted to pursue baseball or play in the jazz band.”

On stage with Bird and Lewis, also from Minnesota: drummer/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Martin Dosh, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Ylvisaker, and a sock monkey. Lewis, Dosh, and Ylvisaker have all been band mates in touring versions of Andrew Broder’s experimental rock group Fog.

I TiVo’d Letterman’s show on Jan. 29 after being alerted to Michael’s appearance by his Aunt Wendy, who posted a message on Facebook (this is the Wendy who sings on the latest CD by The Bad Plus, “For All I Care.”) More surprises: Lewis stood relatively still while he played. When he blows the saxophone, he paces like a caged cat. He also sang.

The day after Letterman, the group sold out Carnegie Hall.

The Andrew Bird tour comes to the State Theatre on Saturday, April 11. Tickets (through Ticketmaster) are scarce.

But, on March 13, you can catch Lewis with Fat Kid Wednesdays at the Dakota with singer/songwriter Haley Bonar. 7:30 p.m., $20.

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