Ramsey Lewis: Jazz icon mentors next generation of musicians

admin | 3/8/2012, 4 a.m.

Ramsey Lewis, 77, is one of Black Americas senior statesmen of jazz. The Grammy Award-winning pianist and composer is best known for his chart-topping singles, The In Crowd, Hang on Sloopy and Wade in the Water all three sold over one million copies and were certified gold. In between touring, Lewis hosts a weekly syndicated radio program, Legends of Jazz, and can often be seen in his hometown of Chicago, talking to young people about the history and relevance of jazz. In his 50-year career, Lewis has recorded close to 80 albums, including his latest, Ramsey Taking Another Look, which includes an electric band and features the hit by Stevie Wonder, Living for the City. Jazz used to be the number one style of music in America but our country went through real change in the 1960s, he said. The Vietnam War and the rise of rock and roll and a new youth culture took over the spotlight. That, coupled with music education being removed from the public schools, resulted in many years where our children have become unaware of some of the most important things in life including jazz. Jazz was born in this country. I only hope that parents and the community will rise up and demand that the arts are placed back into our schools. Kids need music including jazz; they need ballet and other forms of dance. An eclectic lover of music Lewis has recently assembled a new band and says hes excited about their versatility and skill. The quintet has a bass player in his 20s and a drummer in his 30s and they are very rhythmic and energetic, he said. Theyre the kind of young musicians that will get you out of your seat. I get to teach them and learn at the same time. As for his favorite kind of music, Lewis says its difficult for him to say. I have 15,000 songs on my Ipod and have all kinds of categories: classical, jazz, pop, rock, gospel, he said. I have some customized categories where Ive mixed classical and jazz together and then vocalists who are among my favorites like Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington. But theres no one artist that I listen to all the time. I like it all. Lewis still tours with his band, doing close to 40 concerts a year. But he makes sure he has time for his family. I spread the tour out so that I only have a few each week because I dont like to be on the road for too long anymore, he said. My wife and I are enjoying our lives and having great fun with our 13 grandchildren and one great-grandson. I still live in Chicago and while Oprah and Michael [Jordan] may have left us, its still a world class city with all kinds of culture. Its a wonderful place to come home to. Often referred to as a legend, Lewis says he doesnt see himself that way. What keeps me enthusiastic and energizes me is the realization that the more I learn, the more I find there is to know, he said. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com