Today, let's look at some performance videos from throughout the long career of pianist Ramsey Lewis, who will be in St. Louis with his Electric Band to perform Wednesday, November 30 through Saturday, December 3 at Jazz at the Bistro.
Lewis, 76, is a Chicago native who first gained wide attention in the 1960s with a series of hit singles that included the gospel-inflected Wade In The Water" and bluesy versions of then-current pop tunes such as Dobie Gray's The In Crowd" and the McCoys' Hang On Sloopy." You can see a live TV performance of Sloopy," recorded back in 1967, in the first embedded video window up above.
Down below, there are a couple of clips from Lewis' performance in 1980 at the Montreal Jazz Festival. The first starts off with a hard-driving In Crowd," then segues into a piano solo that demonstrates Lewis' affinity for the blues. Next, guitarist Henry Johnson, a longtime collaborator who still performs with Lewis, kicks off an abbreviated version of Sun Goddess," the funk tune that was a hit for Lewis and Earth, Wind and Fire in 1974.
The second clip from that concert shows Lewis and band playing Chick Corea's 500 Miles High," one of a number of songs by well-known jazz musicians that Lewis has adapted for his own purposes.
For the fourth clip, we fast-forward to 1987 and a performance of 711" on The Arsenio Hall Show. The video on this one, seemingly taken from an old VHS tape, is pretty rough, but the audio quality is fine, and the tune offers a nice taste of the commercial funk sound Lewis offered on several recordings around this time.
Clip number five brings us into the 21st century for a solo performance of Dear Lord," taken from Legends of Jazz, the public television series hosted by Lewis in 2006.
The final clips show off the 2011 edition of Lewis' band, presumably the same group that will be playing with him at the Bistro. The sixth clip is a full-length version of Sun Goddess," recorded in Paris in August, and the seventh and final video takes us back to the the pianist's roots with contemporary version of The In Crowd" from a concert in Glasgow, Scotland last January.
I love jazz because...it's in my blood! My late father, Billy Ainsworth, was a musical prodigy who dropped out of school at 17 after he stunned the seasoned musicians of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with an in-off-the-street audition
I love jazz because...it's in my blood! My late father, Billy Ainsworth, was a musical prodigy who dropped out of school at 17 after he stunned the seasoned musicians of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with an in-off-the-street audition. He was on the band bus the next day as Dorsey's alto sax and clarinet player, and never looked back. He played with great bandleaders such as Freddie Martin, Tex Beneke and Ray McKinley, some before he was out of his teens (they had to lie about his age to get him into nightclubs). Many older musicians have told me he was the greatest alto sax player they ever worked with. He was equally great on clarinet and was clarinetist and harmony singer for cocktail jazz pioneers, the Ernie Felice Quartet.
He eventually left the road and settled down, and that's when I came in. By that time, he was, by day, vocal group session leader/player/arranger for classic jingles and commercial music produced in Dallas. At night, he played in society bands, jazz combos and elegant showrooms. Tuesdays were slow in the showrooms, so band members' families got in free, and my mom took me to see him backing such legends as Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Steve and Eydie, and a very old Ella Fitzgerald. Between that, hearing his record collection, growing up around the legendary musicians and singers who were like aunts and uncles to me, and just listening to him practice around the house, filling the neighborhood with incredible jazz sax riffs, I couldn't help becoming that weird kid who was listening to Peggy Lee, Ella and Manhattan Transfer when my classmates were listening to rock, country and soul.
Even though he died before I ever sang professionally, he remains my inspiration and all my CDs are dedicated to him. I like to think that he'd like my music, since it's built on the foundation he handed down to me.