Ramsey has been an iconic leader in the contemporary jazz movement for over 50 years, with an unforgettable sound and outgoing personality that has allowed him to cross over to the pop and R&B charts. The Ramsey Lewis Trio, with bassist Eldee Young and percussionist Redd Holt, became a fixture on the Chicago jazz scene, releasing their debut album, Ramsey Lewis & His Gentlemen of Jazz, back in 1956. Lewis earned his first gold record, as well as a Grammy award for Best Jazz Performance, for their swinging version of Dobie Gray’s hit “The In Crowd.” He returned to the pop charts in 1966 with versions of “Hang On Sloopy” and “Wade In The Water.” Throughout the years, Lewis’ trio has undergone membership changes, all the while staying true to Lewis’ high musical standards.
After Young and Holt left Lewis’ trio to form their own group, the pianist hired a new rhythm section with Cleveland Eaton on bass and Maurice White on drums. When White left the band to form Earth, Wind & Fire, Morris Jennings signed on as the trio’s new percussionist. White returned to produce Lewis’ 1974 smash album entitled Sun Goddess, in which Lewis first experimented with electronic keyboards and featured Earth, Wind & Fire on the album. In 1983, Lewis returned to the studio with Young and Holt for the album Reunion.
Throughout his illustrious career, Lewis has also joined forces with countless other artists to create new and innovative music. In 1984, he collaborated with Nancy Wilson on The Two of Us; in 1988, he recorded with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra for the album A Classic Encounter; and in 1989, Lewis and Dr. Billy Taylor cut a set of piano duets in We Meet Again. In 1995, Lewis launched the side project Urban Knights, in which he collaborated with a handful of successful crossover jazz stars, including Grover Washington, Jr., Earl Klugh, and Dave Koz. In 1997, Lewis added disc jockey to his resume, hosting a popular show on Chicago’s WNUA-FM that ran until 2009. A new show was syndicated in 2006 under the name Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis and was broadcast on jazz radio stations across the country. In 2006, a well-received 13-episode Legends of Jazz television series hosted by Lewis was broadcast by PBS on public TV nationwide and featured live performances by a variety of jazz artists including Larry Gray, Lonnie Smith, Joey Defrancesco, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Kurt Elling, Benny Golson, Pat Metheny and Tony Bennett.
After having played mostly in an acoustic trio for the last fifteen years, Lewis’ latest endeavor has him returning to his electric roots. The three time Grammy® winner released Ramsey, Taking Another Look on September 20, 2011, featuring a new electric quintet with Henry Johnson on guitar, Michael Logan on keys, Joshua Ramos on bass and Charles Heath on drums. On the ten song CD, Lewis rekindles his 1974 career-defining album “Sun Goddess” through a collection of re-recorded tracks from the original disc perfectly balanced with five new tunes. “Jungle Strut” has all the attitude of its 1974 original and Lewis makes magic on the Fender Rhodes in “Tambura.” And rather than re-recording the title track “Sun Goddess”, Lewis has beautifully re-edited the original studio recording featuring Earth, Wind and Fire. Lewis and his Electric Band breathe new life into classic covers, such as the new high-octane rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” and a tender interpretation of the timeless “Betcha By Golly Wow.”
Recently, Lewis and students from Chicago’s Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy celebrated the success of his recording of the Stevie Wonder hit, “Living for the City,” from the new CD by filming a Music Video for the track. So far, nearly 32,000 people have watched this Video on YouTube, which was entirely shot and edited by Film & Broadcast and Recording Arts students. He is a long-time resident of Chicago, and believed in the importance of giving the Tribeca Flashpoint Media students this valuable experience and unforgettable opportunity.
Famous for his passion for Steinway pianos, this is the first time Lewis has played the Fender Rhodes electric piano in over a decade. Lewis observed, “I was pleasantly brought back to what I loved about the instrument. Unlike an acoustic piano, you get that groove-oriented electric sound. And, you can add vibrato, enhance bass and treble. As a musician, it allows me to take on different and exciting roles. I feel almost like a horn player or even a singer because of the Fender Rhodes’ unique qualities and capabilities.”