Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis-Concert Review
Last night I got a chance to check out one of my jazz heroes, Ramsey Lewis, display his mastery of piano and performance for a sold out crowd at The Sheldon Concert Hall. Mr. Lewis is 83 years old and still knows how to work the entire piano as well as keep the crowd engaged for the whole performance. People were hooting, hollering and giving standing ovations the entire performance. He played so delicately tasteful that I found myself listening and hinging on every note. It was like watching a painter. He was so deliberate and thoughtful with each note color he chose to brush the air with.
The show was billed as Ramsey Lewis plays the Beatles, and while he did play 3 Beatles songs (And I Love Her, Here There and Everywhere and A Hard Day's Night) he pretty much played what he wanted to! It should have been called Ramsey Lewis plays his hits because he put on a show featuring some of his most well known songs including: Tequila Mockingbird, Stevie's Wonder's Living For The City, Earth Wind and Fire's Brazillica and Sun Goddess (omg!), his first big commercial hit The In Crowd and a whole bunch more!
The band was slamming! They had such a tight groove and dynamically they played so disciplined behind Ramsey's delicate touch. It was truly inspiring to see how well they all were listening and in touch through eye contact and sonic conversation. You could really feel the communication taking place and the groove was on point all night long! Each member got a chance to showcase their skill set throughout the night and brought the audience to a high point each time.
I first learned about Ramsey Lewis as a 11-12yr old when my second piano teacher, Eddie Oyer, gave me "The In Crowd" that he had transcribed by hand to learn. I remember really digging the groove after playing it over and over until I could get it sounding like Ramsey. I have always been a fan of his soulful mastery of blues licks he can chop up and down the keys. He's cut from a similar mold as Ray Charles who is also one of my all time favorites. As I grew older I would always find myself gravitating towards Ramsey's music because, let's be honest, Ramsey plays the hippest tunes! He always covers smash hit songs in his own jazzy/soulful/bluesy style that immediately catch the listener, taking them on a path of familiarity while showcasing mastery of the jazz language.
Ramsey is super connective as an artist. This is why his show was sold out and the crowd was talking to him the whole night. You can really tell that he programs his music with the listener in mind as well as making sure he stays true to his artistry as a master musician. He is virtually impossible not to like. He has a little bit of something for every type of listener and his catalog expounds over so much territory. He is a pioneer and founding father of playing cover material in a jazz style. His music crosses so many genres and breaks down so many barriers, bringing folks from all demographics together in joy. For this reason I am truly inspired by his music.
It's from Artists like Ramsey Lewis, that I was inspired to start The People's Key and incorporate pop arrangements of jazz tunes in my own trio. It's truly fun to feel connected to the music he creates through the use of his familiar material. It makes listening to his original music that much more heard. He really captivates you with how he touches the keys. He could pound them and play a lot of notes if he wanted to but he forces you to listen and plays only the "good notes". :)
There may be other piano players that could technically play more challenging music with more chops or have a deeper original catalog, but Ramsey is so smooth with the way he delivers his music that he does more to impact his listeners with less. I've found that in general this is a trait I really value in my favorite artists like: Ahmad Jamal, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, and so many more. With Mr. Lewis, it's all about the delivery and connection.
This concert goes down in my all time favorite concert list and I truly learned so much from the experience! I hope to get to hear him again soon!