A Chicago Man’s Chicago Man

This week the world of jazz misplaced one in every of its final nice proselytizers. Ramsey Lewis’ demise at 87 doesn’t simply mark an finish for a person however in some ways additionally marks the tip of an period for music and for his hometown of Chicago.

For greater than sixty years Lewis dazzled jazz followers together with his revolutionary piano model and talent to fuse jazz with Soul, Funk and R&B. He was in a position to do what different, some would argue higher, jazz artists couldn’t do. Ramsey Lewis bought data. When jazz was in retreat within the 1960’s, Lewis did what appears completely affordable now and had been earlier than, he regarded to the rock and soul hits of the day to mine for jazz. After all, jazz purists had been appalled. And naturally music followers had been thrilled.

In 1965, after years of enjoying Lewis launched “The In Crowd”, an album and single recorded at Bohemian Caverns that turned his signature. What makes the track a success is much less Lewis’ deft enjoying and the tightness of the band, and extra the power of the room. When Ramsey Lewis received right into a groove, so did the viewers. It was the viewers’s hand clapping and church-like name and response that led the track and album to the highest of the Billboard R&B charts. The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s follow-ups to that hit up had been “Hold on Sloopy” and “Wade within the Water” (my favourite and unofficial theme track).

Like greats like Miles Davis or Oscar Peterson, Lewis surrounded himself with genius musicians. In his trio, Lewis was flanked by Eldee Younger on bass and Redd Holt on drums. These two would later type Younger Holt Limitless, one other trio with chart topping aspirations. When Younger and Holt left, Lewis changed Cleveland Easton on bass — and this at all times blows my thoughts Maurice White on drums. White would go on to be the co-leader of Earth Wind and Fireplace. That made Ramsey Lewis one thing just like the fulcrum of Chicago music within the 60s and 70s.

If something, it’s that position as a form of Godfather of Chicago music. You see Ramsey Lewis was greater than a world class musician who innovated a style. He was greater than a deejay who helped invent the Clean Jazz radio format. Ramsey Lewis was a Chicago man. He instructed Jazz Month-to-month: “Nicely I’m all about optimism, I’m all about holding the religion, I’m all about making a joyful noise and if that reaches individuals, then I’ve finished my job.” Few individuals saved the religion and the story of Black Chicago higher than Ramsey or Mr. Lewis as he was affectionately known as in his neighborhood of South Shore.

You might see that dedication in how he existed on the earth. Based on his Chicago Solar-Occasions obituary Lewis was born and raised in Chicago. He began taking music classes at 4 yr at Chicago Music Faculty Preparatory College. He later graduated from Wells Excessive College. (There should have been one thing within the water at Wells, as a result of Lewis can be adopted by Jerry “The Iceman” Butler and Curtis Mayfield on the Excessive on Chicago’s close to West aspect.) Many musicians of his caliber left Chicago for good. However through the years, I noticed Lewis everywhere in the metropolis and past.

Lewis was a staple of the famed London Home membership in downtown Chicago. Years in the past, I interviewed one other Chicago legend Tom Burrell for NPR’s Planet Cash. Burrell, one of many first Black promoting executives within the Sixties, recalled how London Home was the apotheosis of downtown Chicago nightlife within the 60’s and Ramsey Lewis led the band. As Gene Seymour writes for NPR, Lewis “made a daring funding daring an funding in the way forward for jazz as any (so-called) avant-gardist or neo-classicist.” Whether or not it was Jazz Fest in Grant park, enjoying with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, defining clean jazz on data and the radio or the 25 elegant years he spent main Jazz at Ravinia, Lewis proved night time after night time that he was a Chicago man. It wasn’t merely that he selected to not depart Chicago, it’s that he invested a lot within the lifetime of town.

Based on the Solar-Occasions, Lewis returned to his grade college usually to carry out. Along with Maurice White, and Verdine White (each of Earth Wind and Fireplace), Lewis inspired a metropolis stuffed with musicians. You may’t throw a drumstick in Chicago with out it hitting a musician who was taught by, performed with or impressed by Lewis. His grade college, Jenner elementary, was within the shadow of the notorious Cabrini Inexperienced housing venture. Cabrini Inexperienced is gone. Since 1980, almost a 3rd of the Black inhabitants of Chicago has left (myself included), in response to the College of Illinois Chicago. He represents that optimistic excessive reaching hustle that was Black Chicago at its top.

I really feel the identical about Ramsey Lewis’ demise as when Ebony and Jet closed, when the Gardners bought Comfortable Sheen or when the Johnsons bought Afro-Sheen. The world has misplaced a musician. Chicago misplaced a Chicago man. Not simply somebody who is aware of the place to get a pork chop at 2 am or how to not get misplaced within the pedway.

A Chicago man makes use of his artwork, anger, energy and love to enhance the lifetime of town. From Highland Park to the Petrillo Band Shell to Jackson Highlands to 87th Stony Island and past, Ramsey Lewis represented esprit de Chicago. If his sole contribution had been his music, he’d be a legend, however a lot of his profession and life was spent making an attempt to make the lifetime of town higher. Musicians get mourned by their followers. Ramsey Lewis identify might be listed with names like Thelonius Monk, Artwork Tatum, Oscar Peterson. In Chicago Lewis’ identify will be part of names of nice Chicagoans like Dusable, DePriest, and Daley. He’s clearly a terrific musician however a hometown boy, a real Chicago man.

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