Ramsey Jamsy

Ramsey Lewis still mines the pop world for hidden jazz grooves

Surprising words from the man who found the funk in basic three-chord rock and roll such as the McCoys' s "Hang on Sloopy" in the early Sixties and dug out the jazzy elements buried in War's politically charged "Slipping Into Darkness" in the early Seventies. "As long as there's been pop music, jazz artists have played their versions of it," he explains. "We never thought of it as 'covers.' That word came out of the rock era of 'I'm doing his tune, therefore my version is less than the original.' But if you go back to Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, they all did tunes that were popular during that day."

Of course the trick was, and is, transcending the material, as Lewis did on his inspired early cuts. "I guess that was the gospel influence in me. When I played at my church, there weren't great complex harmonies. The intention was simplicity and emotion, feeling, rhythm. The feeling that would come from playing that kind of music was born in me."

As for those who feel the need to categorize his music into neat little compartments, Lewis advises, "Whether you call it jazz or apple sauce, forget about the title -- contemporary, traditional, modern, new age -- forget about it." And if you're not hearing the brand of jazz you want to hear, Lewis says, you -- the listener -- have an obligation to do something about it. "Jazz listeners are passive. They listen to the radio and they find stations that aren't playing the music they like, so they turn the radio off in disgust. And that's the end of it. There's people in their late twenties, early thirties, and they weren't introduced to Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington, so they don't demand a whole lot from what they think is jazz or not jazz. I don't know, I'm not one to judge. But they've found a kind of music they call jazz and they're in great numbers. Radio stations aren't dumb."

And neither is Ramsey Lewis, who can now be heard on the radio, again.
Ramsey Lewis performs tomorrow (Thursday) at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, 555 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 661-6571. Tickets cost $20 and $25.

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