Ramsey Lewis, a pianist who sustained connections between jazz and common music at a time when these bonds typically appeared fragile and imperiled, died on Monday in Chicago, his hometown. He was 87.
His demise was introduced by his supervisor, Brett Steele, who cited pure causes.
All through his profession, Lewis was the embodiment of jazz crossover. His affinity for gospel and blues tunes melded seamlessly with easygoing, unfettered forays into the rock and soul requirements of the Sixties — a transaction that yielded main dividends with a trio album recorded at Washington D.C.’s fabled Bohemian Caverns in 1965. The title observe of that album — «The ‘In’ Crowd,» a canopy of Dobie Grey’s rhythm-and-blues hit from the earlier yr — made its personal leap into the charts, spending 16 weeks on the Billboard Prime 100 and rising as excessive as No. 5. The album spent 12 weeks within the high spot amongst best-selling R&B albums.
The rowdy, funky, hard-swinging acoustic jazz of Lewis, bassist Eldee Younger and drummer Pink Holt blended properly with the wildly eclectic musical mélange making its means by the radio airwaves that summer time of ’65, together with the Rolling Stones’ «(I Cannot Get No) Satisfaction,» The 4 Tops’ «I Cannot Assist Myself,» Tom Jones’ «What’s New, Pussycat?» and The Beatles’ «Assist!» For his half, Lewis acquired not solely chart success with «The ‘In’ Crowd» but in addition cultural acclamation: the tune earned him the Grammy award for Finest Instrumental Jazz Efficiency.
Lewis constructed on his common success later that yr with Grasp On, Ramsey! — one other reside trio album, recorded on the Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Seashore, Calif. This time the playlist dug even deeper into the modern repertory, with a canopy of «Grasp On, Sloopy!» that reached No. 6 on the R&B chart and No. 11 on the pop chart. Two covers of songs by The Beatles, «A Laborious Day’s Night time» and «And I Love Her,» had been included with extra conventional requirements like «Satin Doll» and «The Extra I See You.»
In direction of the last decade’s finish, Younger and Holt left the trio to kind their very own jazz combo. They had been changed by bassist Cleveland Eaton and drummer Maurice White. In 1974, Lewis reunited with White — a founder and architect of the seminal soul band Earth, Wind & Hearth — to file Solar Goddess, an album whose emphasis fell on amplified devices, prefiguring what we all know as «clean jazz.» That album topped Billboard‘s Prime Soul Albums chart, and its title observe turned successful single. Maurice White’s brother Verdine, a bassist with EWF, performed and offered vocals on the album, as did the group’s lead vocalist, Philip Bailey.
Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis, Jr. was born on Could 27, 1935, in Chicago. Rising up within the Cabrini-Inexperienced housing venture, he started enjoying piano at age 4. He started his classical coaching on the Chicago Music Faculty Preparatory College, whereas enjoying piano and organ in his native church. He carried the abiding influences of each his gospel and classical coaching right into a stylistically eclectic but rhythmically grounded strategy to jazz.
«I lucked out,» Lewis advised a Chicago Solar-Instances interviewer in 2018, «as a result of each my dad and mom beloved classical and gospel music. My dad beloved jazz as nicely. So, I used to be listening to this music round the home since I used to be born.»
After apprenticing with native ensembles, Lewis joined a jazz group referred to as The Clefs as a freshman at Chicago’s Wells Excessive College. Younger and Holt had been part of that combo earlier than becoming a member of what was later generally known as the «basic» Ramsey Lewis Trio. They made their recording debut in 1956 with Ramsey Lewis and the Mild-men of Swing, adopted in 1957 by Ramsey Lewis and the Mild-men of Jazz, Quantity Two.
In all, Lewis recorded greater than 80 albums, profitable three Grammys and scoring 5 gold information. In 2007, he was named a Jazz Grasp by the Nationwide Endowment for the Arts. He hosted a longtime syndicated radio present, Legends of Jazz, that was developed right into a public tv collection within the mid-2000s.
Although the Nineteen Seventies had been thought of by many to be a low level for jazz’s recognition, Lewis’ crossover success raised hopes that the music would keep the identical connections with rock, soul, and pop that it had within the first half of the twentieth century. By reaching out to audiences of all ages and musical tastes with such a various and cross-generational repertoire, Lewis was making as daring an funding in the way forward for jazz as any (so-called) avant-gardist or neo-classicist.
His dedication to jazz’s current and future discovered different shops — notably as inventive director of Jazz at Ravinia, for which he composed two commissioned works: «Proclamation of Hope, for the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s start; and «To Know Her,» a full rating for the Joffrey Ballet. He additionally helped set up Ravinia’s Jazz Mentor Program. In 2005, he launched the Ramsey Lewis Basis, in search of to attach at-risk kids with the fun of musical creation. His memoir — Gentleman of Jazz, coauthored by Chicago jazz journalist Aaron Cohen — can be printed subsequent yr.
«I believe [in] the whole lot I do, the frequent denominator is improvisation,» Lewis advised Molly Murphy in a 2006 interview for the Nationwide Endowment For the Arts. «Improvisation that ought to swing, have some ahead movement to it, even when it is a ballad, to have some motion about it. The place are you going to search out that spontaneous improvisation within the second besides in jazz?»