Published on September 9th, 2014 | by Bill Perry Jr.0
Jazz Piano Giant Ramsey Lewis at The Ford Center September 11th
There is a jazz giant coming to town, and his name is Ramsey Lewis! The three-time Grammy winning composer and pianist will be performing at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts on the Ole Miss campus September 11, starting at 7:30 pm. Lewis is a very prominent and accomplished figure in the world of jazz, with over 80 albums recorded and having seven gold records in his illustrious career.
He was born on May 27, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois. At the age of 15, he joined his first jazz band called The Cleffs, a seven-piece ensemble. Later, he branched off from this group and formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio with Cleff members Isaac “Redd” Holt on drums and Eldee Young on bass. The trio was mainly a jazz troupe when they released their first album titled Ramsey Lewis And The Gentlemen of Swing in 1956. But in 1965, they recorded their swinging version of Dobie Gray’s pop hit song “The ‘In’ Crowd” (the single reached number five on the pop charts, and the album number two) and started to concentrate their efforts toward developing more pop material. In 1966, Young and Holt left the trio to form their own band and were replaced by bassist Cleveland Eaton and drummer Maurice White (who eventually left to form the hit group Earth, Wind, & Fire and was replaced by Morris Jennings).
That same year, Lewis was one of the nation’s most successful jazz pianists, topping the charts with other hits like “Hang On Sloopy” and “Wade in the Water.” These singles along with “The ‘In’ Crowd” each sold over a million copies. Because of his popular recordings, Lewis attracted a large non-jazz audience during the 1970s, and he often opted to perform on electric pianos to have the sound of the times.
In 1994, Lewis participated on the compilation album Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, alongside other jazz legends like Herbie Hancock and Roy Ayers. The album helped to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African-American community, and was heralded as “Album of the Year” by Time magazine.
In addition to recording and performing all over the world, Lewis hosts the weekly syndicated radio program Legends of Jazz, created in 1990. He also hosted the Ramsey Lewis Morning Show on the Chicago “smooth jazz” radio station WNUA (95.5 FM). In 2006, 13 episodes of the television series version of Legends of Jazz were broadcast on public TV nationwide, and it was very well-received.
Lewis is artistic director of Jazz at Ravinia, an annual feature at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois, and he helped organize Ravinia’s Jazz Mentor Program. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Merit School of Music, a Chicago-based inner-city music program, and the Chicago High School for the Arts.
But the best way to really understand and experience Ramsey Lewis is to see him perform live. I for one will be attending because he is definitely one of my influences. In 1995, he participated in a hip hop jazz song called “Respect The Architect” with the legendary late rapper The Guru for the Jazzmatazz album (released by Guru), and it was the first time I heard a real jazz player performing on a hip hop track (not a sampled loop). Towards the end of the track, Lewis cuts loose with a superb piano solo that made me rethink the potentials of blending real jazz and hip hop together. It was a game changing moment for sure, and I imagine there will be stellar moments at The Ford Center September 11th. This is a “must see” event, so get your tickets today at the UM Box Office (662-915-7411) or online at www.fordcenter.org.