Last night I saw Ramsey Lewis at Orchestra Hall with my Dad. It was a great show, Ramsey proved that, at age 74, his piano chops are as good as ever. The theme of the evening was "Singin' the Blues," but Lewis didn't play just straight blues. His music has always been filtered through many different influences. Obviously, blues is a huge part of jazz, but Lewis played piano at his church as a teenager, and has always loved classical music as well, so those influences are there to be heard as well. The centerpiece of the evening was a medley of gospel songs that lasted close to half an hour! Lewis's trio was in fine form, with Larry Gray on bass and Leon Joyce, Jr. on drums both getting ample room to solo. Joyce's propulsive drumming really fired the crowd up. Ramsey started off the concert with his version of "Wade in the Water," which was a big hit single for him in 1966. In Lewis's arrangement, it becomes a stomping soul-jazz number, similar to his biggest hit, "The In Crowd." Lewis played several newer pieces that he has written, including a song he wrote for the Joffrey Ballet. These pieces were beautiful and quite lovely, I hope Ramsey keeps writing more originals. His newest album, which is due out in September, features all original compositions, it's called "Songs From the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey."
The crowd at Orchestra Hall was enthusiastic, and very responsive. I've been a fan of Ramsey's music for the last 10 years, and I don't think he's ever played the Twin Cities, so I was pretty excited to see him. His trio recordings from the 50's and 60's are just brilliant, I wish more of them were reissued on CD. And my Dad has been a fan of Ramsey's since the 1960's, when he bought albums like, "Barefoot Sunday Blues," and "Live at the Bohemian Caverns." It was a real treat to see a jazz legend who is still performing at an extremely high level.