The Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra was a jazz big band formed by trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis around 1965. The band performed for twelve years in its original incarnation, and included a tour of the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. The band won a 1978 Grammy Award for the album Live in Munich. The collaboration ended in 1978 with Jones suddenly moving to Denmark, after which the band became the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Since the death of Lewis in 1990 it has been known as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Trombonist John Mosca serves as director, saxophonist Dick Oatts serves as artistic director, and pianist Jim McNeely as composer-in-residence. They have maintained a Monday-night residency at the Village Vanguard for four decades.
The orchestra started out as a group of all-star studio musicians getting together for midnight practice sessions at any place within walking distance from Jim and Andy's, a bar frequented by New York musicians. They eventually debuted at the Village Vanguard in New York in 1966, and were quickly noticed by jazz insiders for their originality and virtuoso skills.