13 September 2022

Renowned jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis dies aged 87

13 September 2022

Renowned pianist Ramsey Lewis, whose 60-year career began with the Ramsey Lewis Trio and made him one of America’s most successful jazz musicians, has died at the age of 87.

Lewis is revered in jazz circles for 1960s hits such as The ‘In’ Crowd, Hang On Sloopy and Wade In The Water.

He earned three Grammy awards and seven gold records. The trio’s first record in 1956 was Ramsey Lewis And The Gentlemen of Swing.

Lewis died on Monday in his sleep at his Chicago home, according to his son, Bobby Lewis.

Ramsey Lewis warms up before a taping of the Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis, in November 2005 (AP) (AP)

“He was just at peace,” Mr Lewis told The Associated Press on Monday night. “Most people say when they met dad that he was a class act. He was that way even through his last breath.”

Ramsey Lewis described his approach to composing and performing in a 2011 interview with the AP.

“Life is a solo, and it continues,” Lewis said, sitting at the dining room table in his Chicago home. “I just know that when I put my hands on the piano it’s going to flow.”

Lewis first took piano lessons at the age of four. He spent his early days in Chicago using his gospel and classical roots to create his own jazz style in the many local venues that hired young jazz musicians.

“It gave us a lot of opportunity to try our ideas and learn what it means to perform in front of an audience,” Lewis said as he was named National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2007.

Ramsey Lewis and Nancy Wilson (AP) (AP)

He accepted the award from his mentor and fellow Jazz Master, pianist Billy Taylor.

During his career, Lewis performed with musical stars such as Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Al Jarreau and Pat Metheney.

Lewis had more than 80 albums to his credit — three dozen of them with Chicago-based Chess Records.

He toured around the world and performed at the 1995 state dinner that then-US president Bill Clinton hosted for his Brazilian counterpart, Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

“I believe that my father — his love for the piano and his passion for the piano and how he coveted this love and how he protected it — that gave him longevity,” Bobby Lewis said. “He recognized the gift God had given him.”

Lewis while interviewing guest artists Keb’ Mo’ and Robert Cray during taping for the Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis show in 2005 (AP) (AP)

Lewis also spent time working on behalf of charities that brought music to young people.

“Ramsey’s passion for music was truly fuelled by the love and dedication of his fans across the globe,” his wife, Janet Lewis, said in a Facebook post.

“He loved touring and meeting music lovers from so many cultures and walks of life. It was our family’s great pleasure to share Ramsey in this special way with all those who admired his God-given talents.”

In addition to his wife and son, Lewis also is survived by daughters Denise Jeffries and Dawn Allain; two other sons Kendall Kelly Lewis and Frayne Lewis; and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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