Ramsey Lewis Jr. was born on May 27, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois to Pauline and Ramsey Lewis Sr. He might never have had the opportunity to learn piano if he hadn’t struggled with it as a preschooler.
Annie Offderheide detailed the early history of Lewis for the November 2007 issue Uninterrupted view.
His father was the gospel course director at the Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church. His mother, Pauline, and father chose young Ramsay’s six-year-old sister, Lucille, to take piano lessons. Mr. Lewis recalled, “I was playing on the living room floor with some toy soldiers. I heard my parents say to my older sister, ‘We want you to start learning piano.’ It was like they were saying, ‘We’re taking you for ice cream.’ They could say ‘we want you to take violin lessons.’ or ‘We want you to take tennis lessons.’ She was going to do something and I wanted to do it too. They said, ‘We can only afford one child.’
So how did four-year-old Ramsay begin piano lessons? His repeated appeals were so convincing that his family agreed that he too should take lessons. Lucille recalls that they were both “taken by the hand and taken to the home of our church organist, Ernestine Bruce, a well-known piano teacher on the North Side near Chicago. An hour of practice on the piano was really painful for me! Not so for Ramsay. He finished the introductory book months before I did. The teacher quickly recognized that Ramsay was definitely gifted.
Ramsay Lewis certainly had a natural ability. “But then I got bored. Oh, I loved the piano itself. I loved sitting at the piano. But I didn’t like practicing every day. Thankfully my parents, especially my dad, made sure I practiced.
Susan Windish Brown picked up the next chapter in Lewis’s story in an early 2000s biography for The Musician’s Guide.
[Lewis’] He was introduced to jazz at age 16, when he was invited to join the Clefs, a seven-piece band that played at college proms and social events. Lewis described Mike Bourne in Down Beat as “a very hip R&B jazz kind of thing”. He performed with the band for a few years, until it disbanded due to America’s military involvement in the Korean War. Daddy-O Daly, a popular Chicago DJ, advised the players who survived the draft–bassist and cellist Aldi Young, drummer Red Holt, and Lewis–to stick together as the Ramsey Lewis Trio. .
Daddy-O Daly gave the group’s career another boost when he introduced them to Leonard Chess of the Chess Recording Company. And although Chess recorded the trio’s first album, Daley promised to air it on his show after intervening. That radio exposure in 1956 contributed to the group’s growing popularity.
Meanwhile, Lewis was studying music first at the Chicago College of Music and later at De Paul University. In 1959 the trio were playing at the Cloister Inn in Chicago when an invitation came to perform at the legendary club Birdland in New York City. Louis decided to drop out of school to take advantage of the opportunity. Although Birdland only invited the trio for three weeks, Exposure performed at the Randall’s Island Jazz Festival, the Newport Jazz Festival, and the Village Vanguard. One gig led to another, and Lewis never returned to school.
Here’s the entire first side of that debut album, with a satisfying bit of pop and crackle in the sound quality.
1. 0:00 Carmen 2. 4:30 I remember April 3rd. 8:50 Air 4. 12:38 Bia Mir Bist Do Shonk5. 15:28 Funny Valentine
In my opinion, one of the best interviews with Lewis was for 2012’s Seven-Episode music producer Series hosted by Scott Houston. Lewis talks about growing up and learning to play the piano and how he accidentally stopped playing jazz, which he was unaware of before landing his first recording contract and the accidental encounter that resulted in his trio’s first hit. , includes “The In Crowd”. He punctuates his stories with short and fun bursts of piano playing.
Please spare half an hour to listen whenever you can.
The Trio’s first hit was an instrumental cover of Dobie Gray’s “The In Crowd”, released in late 1964. First, here’s Gray presenting it on ABC. the shindig In 1965.
An instrumental version by the Ramsey Lewis Trio (with Red Holt on drums and Aldi Young on bass) – which Lewis described as a “last-minute filler” – was also recorded live at Bohemian Caverns in Washington, DC in 1965.
It was an instant hit.
As noted in his interview with Sam Houston, due to internal conflicts in the group, the trio faced personnel changes quickly in their rapid growth. Lewis tells the story of meeting a quiet young percussionist named Maurice who joined his trio in 1967. Maurice would go on to form the superstar group Earth, Wind and Fire.
Maurice White’s official website bio pays tribute to his time in the Ramsay Lewis Trio:
After graduating high school, Maurice moved to the Windy City to continue his musical education at the prestigious Chicago Conservatory of Music. He continued to pick up drumming jobs on the side, which eventually lead to a steady position as a studio percussionist with the legendary Chicago label, Chess Records. In chess, Maurice had the privilege of playing with such greats as Etta James, Fontella Bass, Billy Stewart, Willie Dixon, Sonny Stitt and Ramsay Lewis, a trio he joined in 1967. He spent nearly three years as part of the Ramsay Lewis Trio. . “Rumsey helped shape my musical vision beyond just music,” explains Maurice. “I learned about performance and staging.” Maurice also learned about the African thumb piano, or kalimba, an instrument whose sound would become central to much of his work over the years.
Here’s a glimpse of Lewis performing with the new lineup in 1966, which included White at the aforementioned Ravinia festival. The performance ended up being part of a one-hour television show called The voice of Raviniawhich performed genres ranging from jazz to opera, pop to folk.
In 1966 I remember going to a lot of parties and dancing to Lewis’ non-trio hit, “Wade in the Water,” which had both jazz and gospel elements.
Although White would leave the trio and head to the West Coast to start a wildly successful band of his own, their friendship sparked another big hit for Lewis, which he recounted in a 2012 interview with Patrick Wall for Columbia, South Carolina. . Free Times.
Patrick Wall: Next sun goddess, you worked mostly in acoustic trios and thus, kind of a leaner, more bebop-oriented sound. And in the crowd, which many consider to be your best work, is very straight-forward trio jazz. How did you develop that deep funk groove in the ’70s? A big part of it was when Maurice White [who’d later start Earth Wind and Fire] Joined your band?
Ramsey Lewis: well, you know in the crowd And those things, that’s the growth of my playing in our church, playing gospel music for so many years. So many people, when I did in the crowd, they said, oh, it’s funky, it’s bluesy, it’s this, it’s that. But really this is the effect of playing gospel music. And the trio changed, the original trio changed, and we needed a drummer. And Maurice White came into the group, and he played with three – it was Maurice White and Cleveland Eaton in a trio. And Maurice then said, well I’m going to form my own group. And I said, “Oh, are you going to make a trio? Are you going to play bebop?” And he said, “No, man. We’re going to dance. We’re going to play rock ‘n’ roll. And I said, “Oh, Maurice.” [chuckles] “Take a couple of aspirin and get over it!” So he left and went to California. And a few years later, he calls me and says, “I got this song, and you’d like to record it. We’re in New York and we’re going to LA, but we can stop in Chicago. Bring two or three guys along, and you’ve got a hit record.” So they came over, and we did this song, and I said, “What are you going to call it?” And he said, “It’s Called ‘Hot Dawgit’.” And so he’s packing up and getting ready to go, and he says, “Oh I almost forgot. We’ve got this other melody, just a melody, like a 16-bar melody, it’s really good, but that’s all, so you have to do some soloing to fill out the song.” And we went on for seven or eight minutes. , because we didn’t think it would be a single. But, you know, we had the single. And, I said, what do you call this second song? And he said, well, call it “Sun Goddess.” Well, the single came out. I think my mom and my sister bought a copy, and maybe a couple of my friends, and it died on the branch. But the album was selling. People were coming in and asking. sun goddess. So, then Maurice, by now, Earth, Air, and Fire is hotter than a firecracker, and he said, “You know, you want to walk with us? You can set yours, and then we can. sun goddess Together.” And it was during that tour that I added some electric instruments so we could play these songs.
Listen to “Sun Goddess”.
When word of Lewis’ death on September 12 spread, tributes and tributes flooded in from friends, fellow musicians and major media. Let’s visit a few.
His lifelong Chicago friend, Rev. From Jesse Jackson Sr.:
From Philip Bailey of Earth, Air and Fire:
From friend and Latin jazz legend Eddie Palmieri:
From the current mayor of Chicago:
Here’s to the “happiness” of 2021 The exploits of Maha!The last triple album released before Lewis’ death.
Let’s close on a high note with a taste of Lewis’ gospel roots. It was always a happy day when Ramsay Lewis sat down at the piano and rewarded the world with music. This rendition of “Oh Happy Day” was recorded live in 2005 at the JW James Memorial AME Church in Maywood, Illinois. Rev. Lucille L. Jackson—Louise’s older sister, who knew she wasn’t the family piano prodigy—was the co-pastor.
Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Rest in joy.
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