Music has always been an essential part of Arthur Lewis’ life.
The Sunnyside musician’s father is a songwriter and his mother is a singer. The members of his extended family are musically-inclined as well. So it should come as no surprise that he got into the family business.
“Making music just made sense. When I was 15, learning about famous 20th century composers in music class, I imagined what it would be like to be a famous 21st century composer,” he said. “When I was 16, I became convinced that it was now time for me to learn to play the piano – this was something I had to do to become the person I wanted to be in the future.”
Lewis’ music is a jazz-tinged performance of indie soul, with light-footed instrumentation revolving around his smooth, effortlessly graceful vocals. This expressive style can be heard on his 2008 EP, “If We Were.” Working in the studio is a highlight of his musical process.
“There’s a fantastic creative space you can get into when there’s no audience and no fear of taking risks – just you and the thing you’re building,” he said. “I love the process of creating something, listening back, gauging my own visceral reaction to it and making changes.”
As he has grown as an artist, Lewis’ sound has changed alongside him. When he started his career and had a CD release show in 2008, he built up a big, eight-piece soul band to emulate the music he loved.
In the subsequent years, he has tailored his sound to make it more personal, eventually cutting down to acoustic solo shows.
“All this was only possible because I’d pushed all the other stuff I wanted to do into other projects,” he said. “I play with a bunch of groups now, and occasionally do musical direction for theater, so I get to try out all the different musical things I love doing in those contexts, and focus on a clear direction for my own stuff.”
Part of Lewis’ musical identity came from listening to his mother, aunt and cousins play Haitian folk songs on the guitar. While he never learned to speak Kreyol, the melodies and rhythms stuck with him.
“I like to imagine that my more rhythmic music is somehow based on what I heard in those songs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were just in my imagination,” Lewis said.
On Nov. 16, Lewis will be playing at Joe’s Pub with Freestyle Love Supreme, an improve comedy freestyle rap group he has been with for the past 10 years. On Nov. 24, he will collaborate with poet Sarah Kay and singer/songwriter Kayla Ringleheim for a show at the Bowery Poetry Club.