Jazzman and graphic designer Tim Lewis dies :: Bay Area Reporter


Jazz pianist and graphic designer Tim Lewis died Sept. 12 in San Francisco after a long battle with several debilitating health issues, friends said. He was 65 years old.

In an obituary, friends noted that Mr Lewis, a gay man, had a deep love and knowledge of jazz artists, and they said they would miss the delicious, sardonic humor he shared so readily and regularly .

“His self-effacing quality belied the strength and depth of his musical and artistic accomplishments,” the obituary said. “Tim was an artist who lived by following his passions for jazz standards and the Great American Songbook, American musicals, and mid-century art and design.”

Born March 21, 1957 in Palo Alto, Mr. Lewis grew up in Santa Barbara but left home the day he turned 18 in 1975 and moved to San Francisco where he has lived ever since. At Lone Mountain College he began his graphic design career working for the Lone Mountain Gazette and the Haight Ashbury Voice. He then worked as artistic director of the Berkeley Barb, but when he folded in 1980 he was hired as artistic director of Spectator magazine, an offshoot of the advertising section of the Barb’s adult and erotic services. He had a free and diverse approach to all expressions of consensual sexuality. After leaving the Spectator, he served as art director for Drummer magazine.

Mr. Lewis was hired by Gay Sunshine Press’ Winston Leyland to design covers for the books in the Straight to Hell and Meatmen series, as noted in a 2020 profile in the Bay Area Reporter. (https://www.ebar.com/story.php?ch=bartab&sc=barchive&id=286484) Mr. Lewis’ musical interests intersected with his freelance graphic work in design projects for KCSM-FM, Pomegranate Press , Concord Records and the late Josie’s Cabaret and Juice Joint where he produced posters for a wide range of queer artists, the obituary noted. More recently, he designed the cover for Marc Huestis’ memoir, “Impresario of Castro Street: An Intimate Showbiz Memoir”.

In a Facebook post, Huestis said he was mourning the passing of his friend.

“Tim was an accomplished jack-of-all-trades, a true talent in design, music and snark,” Huestis wrote. “Sometimes creating a cover can be a bumpy process, but with Tim it was a joyous and fun process, with his enthusiasm for producing the best design possible fueling the end result. It was a special man and he will be missed.”

Graphic design allowed Mr. Lewis to indulge his passion for music, which never paid the bills. “If you want to be a jazz musician with a million dollars, it’s easy,” he joked to writer Michael Flanagan in the BAR 2020 profile. “First, start with two million dollars.”

Music work

Mr Lewis started playing the piano at the age of 5, the obituary notes. At 15, his life changed when he acquired a pile of 78s and sheet music from a store where he worked. As he told Flanagan, “It included Nat King Cole, Billie Holliday, and Dinah Washington. I wouldn’t play piano now if I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know black music until then. During friends were listening to The Beatles, I was looking for Ella Fitzgerald records.”

Mr. Lewis was musical director and pianist for Mary Media and the Cassettes, a musical performance subset of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. He accompanied the sisters to the main stage of the International Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day Parade, the Miss Haight Ashbury Pageant at the Great American Music Hall, the Castro Street Fair and other venues, often dressed as a boy from angelic choir.

He started performing as a cabaret musician in 1985 thanks to his friend and mentor Frank Banks at the Mint. After the bar closed they were hanging out playing music and singing with other patrons. When Banks fell ill in the early 1990s, Mr Lewis was one of his carers (a service he also provided to several other friends) and performed at his memorial on Valentine’s Day 1993, according to the BAR profile.

After playing at La Monnaie, he accompanied Mitch Bandanza at Buckley’s and then performed with a jazz quartet for several weeks in the late 1980s at the Blue Lamp on Geary Boulevard.

In June 1991, he performed with singer Kelly Houston in the revue “Riffin’ with Mr. Cole: A Tribute to Nat King Cole” (an artist Mr. Lewis was passionate about), later moving her from Charpe’s to Mason Street Wine Bar until September.

In 1993, he returned to Mason Street with another revue, “Love Songs and Other Nonsense”. He also performed at the Phone Booth on South Van Ness in the 1990s, and in 1994 played piano for “Late Nite With Joan Jett Blakk” at Josie’s Cabaret. He played show tunes and accompanied Donna Sachet to the Plush Room for her annual “Songs of the Season” in 2000.

Venues Mr Lewis played in the early 2000s included a stint for over a year at the original Lush Lounge piano bar on Post Street and Mayes Oyster House on Polk. Later he performed two nights a week for three and a half years at Caffe Trieste on Market, sometimes accompanied by bassist Kaeli Earle, and also performed with the Donovan Plant Band at the Red Devil Lounge on Polk Street.

Over the past few years, Mr. Lewis’ razor-sharp humor, pop culture interests and encyclopedic musical knowledge have come together on Facebook where he has enjoyed hosting several pages. “Timmy’s Jazz Heaven” was one, “Mommie’s Memes” devoted to Joan Crawford memes “Mommie Dearest” was another, and there was a “Tim Lewis Design” page, in addition to his homepage of general interest “Tee Willikers”.

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