Ramsey Lewis (Photo by Ravinia Festival)
If you grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, chances are you’ve heard jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis turn recognizable pop tunes such as “The In Crowd,” “Hang On Sloopy” and “Summer Breeze” into smooth and sophisticated jams, appropriate for both the dance hall and the elevator. And with his electric piano, Mr. Lewis defined the pop sounds of the mid-’70s, producing trippy, wordless funk anthems like “Sun Goddess” with members of Earth, Wind & Fire.
Though Mr. Lewis, now 74, had fun playing the role of “pop piano player” during those years, “anyone who came to my concerts back then knew that wasn’t the whole story,” he said. A pianist since the age of 4, this Chicago native studied Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms and Chopin during his younger years and discovered jazz as a teenager, taking inspiration from artists such as Duke Ellington, Art Tatum and Meade Lux Lewis.
Never known as a composer, Mr. Lewis recently discovered a long-hidden and prolific talent as a songwriter for solo piano, trio and full orchestra formats. After 80 albums over a 50-year career, Mr. Lewis released “Songs from the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey” last September