A day at the piano a joyful one for Ramsey Lewis
Ramsey Lewis headlines the Tivoli Theatre on March 1.
8 p.m. March 1
Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove
(630) 942-4000; home.cod.edu/atthemac
Updated: February 27, 2013 11:27AM
Ramsey Lewis may be blowing out 78 candles on his birthday cake this May, but he isn’t slowing down.
“I don’t believe in slowing down,” the Chicago native and jazz icon said. “What I’m doing is enjoying the moment and enjoying playing piano. I would play the piano for free. A day spent at the piano practicing is joyful for me.”
Ramsey Lewis Electric Band performs at 8 p.m. March 1 at the Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove.
Ramsey is considered one of the nation’s most successful and popular jazz pianists, and joining him will be guitarist Henry Johnson, keyboardist/vocalist Tim Gant, bassist Joshua Ramos and drummer Charles Heath.
Lewis began playing the piano professionally at the age of 15 with the Chicago jazz band, The Cleffs. He later formed the successful Ramsey Lewis Trio with Cleffs’ drummer Isaac “Redd” Holt.
Over the years, he has amassed three Grammy Awards, seven gold records and three honorary doctorates.
For his date at the Tivoli, he will play a mix of electric and acoustic material with his quintet.
“It’s a wonderful family affair … we are as close off-stage as we are onstage, and onstage we’re pretty darn close,” he said.
Audiences will hear a lot of originals, but Lewis says he would be remiss if he didn’t play standards like “The In Crowd,” “Wade in the Water,” “Sun Goddess,” and a medley of gospel pieces “people always request,” he said.
“We intend to show you a good time,” he said.
Lewis has 80 albums under his belt, going back to the mid-1950s.
“In those days, you would put out an album twice a year,” he said. “It wasn’t until the middle ’60s that somebody said, ‘Slow down.’ So those first several years, I got a lot of albums out. Then we started recording at least once a year. And when you do that over 55 years, you get a lot of albums out.”
In addition to maintaining a regular touring schedule — he just got back from a jaunt in Japan — Lewis has an upcoming tour with guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli. The pair is planning to do a tribute to Nat King Cole.
“Also, I am putting together a one-man show where I will talk about my life, my ideas, my thoughts, and write some new music to go along with the show,” he said.
Lewis is as much of a jazz ambassador and educator as he is a performer. He is a lecturer, conducts master’s classes and works with youth in music education programs. He also serves as artistic director of jazz at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, which led to his involvement in forming the Reach*Teach*Play education programs that now serve 75,000 people throughout Chicago.
“I feel that reading, writing and arithmetic are great for the brain and it feeds the intellect, but what does one do to feed the soul? I think the arts are wonderful in that regard,” he said.