Ramsey Lewis death, American jazz composer dead – Obituary

Ramsey E. Lewis Jr. was born on May 27, 1935 in Chicago. He grew up in the Cabrini Green residential project and began studying the piano at the age of four and playing the piano in the church where his father served as choirmaster. Ramsey Lewis Sr., a jazz fan who played a lot of Duke Ellington and Art Tatum at home and took his son to jazz concerts, encouraged Ramsey to embrace the music.

When Ramsay was a freshman at Wells High School, saxophonist and pianist Wallace Burton, a church musician whose jazz career attracted Ramsay, invited him to Join his band The Clefs, a college septet that mixes jazz and R&B. Lewis needs to learn bebop and other styles of jazz, but on the run. Several members of the Clef, including Burton, served in the military following the outbreak of the Korean War. The three unselected members—Lewis, bassist Eldie Young, and drummer Red Holt—formed what came to be known as the classic Ramsay-Lewis trio.

In 1956, they released their first album Ramsey Lewis and His Gentlemen of Jazz on Chess Records. Three years later, Lewis was invited to perform with the trio at Birdland in New York. Their three-week work resulted in performances at the Newport Jazz Festival and Country Pioneer, as well as recordings with Max Roach, Clark Terry and Sonny Stitt.

Lewis got his big break in 1965 with his early crossover hit “The In Crowd.” The elegant and stylish Grammy-winning song (written by Dobie Gray) was followed by two other chart-topping hits, “Hang on Sloopy” and “Wade in the Water.”

After Young and Holt left to form their own band, Lewis went on to trio on drums with bassist Cleveland Eaton and future Earth, Wind & Fire Eminence Maurice White. He then experimented with an electronic keyboard in a larger setting. A highlight was his 1974 album Sun Goddess, produced by White, which included members of Earth, Wind & Fire (he would tour with falsetto expert Philip Bailey years later). The record established Lewis as a fusion music icon with broad appeal.

Over the years, Lewis has performed and recorded in a wide variety of musical settings. In the 70s, he devoted himself to R&B and Latin American music, but did not abandon mainstream jazz. In 1983 he recreated his most famous trio on the album Reunion.

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