Lew Tabackin is a jazz flutist and a tenor saxophonist. Tabackin first took up the flute at the age of 12, followed by the tenor saxophone at age 15. He has citied Al Cohn and Coleman Hawkins as influences on his sax playing, while his flute role models include classical players such as William Kincaid, Julius Baker, and Jean-Pierre Rampal. Tabackin studied flute at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and also studied music with composer Vincent Persichetti. In 1962 he graduated from the Conservatory and, after a stint with the U.S. Army, worked with Tal Farlow. He also worked with Chuck Israels in New York City, and a combo that included Elvin Jones, Donald Byrd, and Roland Hanna. Later he would have a chair in The Dick Cavett Show's band and The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen. Tabackin moved from New York to California when The Tonight Show relocated in 1972. During this time he played with Shelly Manne and Billy Higgins, among others.
Tabackin met Toshiko Akiyoshi in 1967. They formed a quartet in the late 1960s, married in 1969, and in 1973 co-founded the Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big Band in Los Angeles, which later became the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin, playing bebop in Duke Ellington-influenced arrangements and compositions by Akiyoshi. Tabackin was principal soloist for the big band/orchestra from 1973 through 2003.