Five For Friday: Ramsey Lewis Tribute

We’re taking a week off from the Songwriting Teams topic for the following special presentation.

I mentioned in yesterday’s Song of the Day post that Ramsey Lewis passed away the other day at the age of 87. I said yesterday that, for some reason, I forget him when I talk about my early jazz influences, the people who showed me through their music that there was more to music than The Beatles and Allan Sherman. One day I’ll gather all of those influences into a post and talk about them.

Ramsey Lewis played the keyboards, primarily the piano, but as we moved into the ’70’s he started working synthesizers and electric piano into his portfolio. In his later years he added musicians to his bands that could play those instruments so that he could focus on playing the piano. I found a video of his last interview where he said that he spent two hours at a time at the piano, playing not just jazz but classical music and whatever else he heard. In it, he says that the piano was his best friend (almost immediately changing that to put his wife ahead of it).

He was Chicago born and raised, and lived there most of his life. In addition to being an instrumentalist, he was an educator: Wikipedia tells us

Lewis was also active in musical education in Chicago. He founded the Ramsey Lewis Foundation, established the Ravinia’s Jazz Mentor Program, and served on the board of trustees for the Merit School of Music and The Chicago High School for the Arts.

And, if that wasn’t enough, he worked in radio. His Legends in Jazz series of radio broadcasts was heard over NPR, and a 13-part series by the same name was televised over PBS stations. He also worked as a disc jockey on WNUA, the “smooth jazz” station in Chicago, hosting The Morning Show With Ramsey Lewis which was broadcast around the country until 2009, when a format change ended the station’s days as a smooth jazz outlet.

He recorded over 50 albums starting in 1956. Choosing five songs that represent all of that was impossible, so I fugured to just pick songs I like. Maggie gave her input as far as a couple of the songs, which were songs I would have chosen as well. When all was said and done, I ended up with six songs, so you get a 20% bonus today.

  1. “Sun Goddess” with Earth Wind & Fire: Maurice White had been a member of one of the later incarnations of The Ramsey Lewis Trio, eventually leaving to form Earth Wind & Fire. This was a joint effort between them. It’s the title track from Ramsey’s 1974 album. it peaked at #44 on the Hot 100, #20 on the R&B chart, and #5 on the Dance chart.
  2. “Brazilica”: One of Maggie’s choices, it was released as a single in 1976 and later on his album Salongo from the same year. It made it to #88 on the Hot 100.
  3. “Wade In The Water”: Maggie’s other pick, it was the title track from his 1966 album. Actually a gospel song, it was released as a single in 1966 and reached #19 on the Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B chart. It also reached #31 in the UK.
  4. “Dear Prudence”: From Ramsey’s 1969 album Mother Nature’s Son, where he covered songs from The Beatles’ white album.
  5. “Skippin'”: From his 1977 album Tequila Mockingbird.
  6. “Hang On Sloopy”: From his 1965 album Hang On, Ramsey! It reached #11 on the Hot 100 and #6 on the R&B chart.

Ramsey Lewis, your Five For Friday, September 16, 2022.

9 thoughts on “Five For Friday: Ramsey Lewis Tribute

  1. When I was living in Chicagoland Ramsay came out with his version of “The In Crowd” and it got a lot of radio play. I was already a big fan of the version Dobie Gray did and when Ramsey came out with his version I really latched onto that one. After that I was a Lewis fan.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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    1. I know he influenced me on the kinds of music I like. I don’t think I heard Dobie Gray’s “The In Crowd” until some time in the ’70’s, when “Drift Away” got popular.

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  2. All great choices, John, to honor such a legacy. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Dear Prudence. I can still see my parents’s doing the jitterbug in our living room to Hang On Sloopy. What an amazing talent and musical influence.

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