Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis can take the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and turn it into a work of art. After watching and listening to him, I am sure of this. Eighty-years-old, he has the musical energy of a much younger man. He also brought to MacIninch Art Center a very talented group of musicians.
First up was Henry Johnson on guitar. The first thing I thought of was Wes Montgomery. For those of you not familiar with Montgomery’s style, Wes mostly played with just his thumb on his right hand. Henry switched between that and a pick which he must have held in his palm while using his thumb. Johnson’s other influences include Kenny Burrell and George Benson. As a fledgling jazz guitar player myself, I found him to be a tasty player and learned a lot watching him play.
Joshua Ramos was on bass. He switched between upright bass and a five string electric through the set. Ramos got some serious applause from his solos. He played with the fluency most lead guitar players might envy. Having said that, he stayed in the pocket when he needed to do so.
On drums was Charles Heath. Heath is an amazing jazz drummer, switching from sticks to brushes depending on the song. I found out he started playing drums at an early age and I am not surprised. He started working as a musician at the age of fourteen and earned a degree in music at Shaw University. His list of playing credits is quite long.
Then, of course you have Mr. Lewis, “the great performer”. Ramsey certainly lives up to the title. Though understandably a bit slow walking across the stage, it did not reflect his musical energy. He took Pop melodies to new heights. The Beatles’ “Here There and Everywhere” was my personal favorite. Another Beatles song he did amazing things to was “Hard Day’s Night”. Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” was very nice as well. I didn’t hear too many songs that one would consider jazz standards, except possibly his own compositions. Lewis did have a few hits in his heyday, most jazz musicians cannot claim that. The ability to take a familiar melody and turn it into something greater is truly an art. I overheard someone say how he never played one of the songs the same way twice. The jazz musical mind just seems to work like that. Lewis did not give you a heavily rehearsed, boring performance. It showed the listener how music can be spontaneous and structured at the same time.
The art of jazz is not as popular as it once was in America. You could tell this from the crowd. The average age was at least sixty, if I had to estimate. Personally, I find it so refreshing to see great musicians actually perform without the use of gimmicks. The raw energy of the performance was the key on this particular Saturday night.
If you have any interest in seeing real music played the way it was supposed to be played, go see it now before all the classic players are all gone. At eighty-years-old, Ramsey won’t be around forever. The music will live forever, but the performers will not. I don’t want to sound like a cynic, but I think a lot of this is lost in music today. Go support music being played by real musicians like The Ramsey Lewis Quartet. Good music elevates you mind, body and soul to new heights.
In the end, I found the performance inspirational and highly rewarding. The reward was an emotional sense of elevation. Music is the ultimate escape. For one hour and forty-five minutes I had no problems in my life. Even after coming back to reality, I felt better. I wish to thank “the great performer” for this. Ramsey Lewis is simply amazing and it was great to see and of course hear him.
Ramsey Lewis Quartet
March 12, 2016-7:30 PM
MacIninch Art Center
College Of DuPage
Glen Ellyn, IL