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Ramsey Lewis | Songs From the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey – [Concord Jazz, 2009]

Ramsey Lewis

Ramsey Lewis

Today, September 29, Concord Jazz releases Songs From the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey, the debut Concord Jazz CD from iconic pianist/bandleader Ramsey Lewis. At the age of 74, Ramsey Lewis has not only continued to be active in the jazz world, but he’s also forging ahead with a newly inspired creative instinct as a composer. This re-envisioned artistic sensibility is showcased on his new album, which is a remarkable, refined collection of 12 new originals that he composed over a period of two years. The collection includes music from two commissioned world premiere performances at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois, just north of Chicago. Eight songs come from the score of 2007’s ballet To Know Her…written for the Joffrey Ballet Company and four pieces come from 2008’s Muses and Amusements suite performed with the Turtle Island Quartet.

Songs From the Heart, Lewis’ first trio recording in five years, features eight pieces with bassist Larry Gray and drummer Leon Joyce, and four piano solo performances. To Lewis, the CD marks a turning point in his storied career: he’s found new life as a composer.

“Initially nothing was compelling me to go into the studio,” says the three-time-Grammy-winner Lewis, who in addition to his 80-plus album career (seven went gold) is also a Chicago-based radio personality and host of the PBS TV series “Legends of Jazz.” “But since I’d been composing so much and people were responding positively to the new songs, I decided to do an entire album of my own material instead of recording music by other artists.”

In 2006, Welz Kauffman, the president/CEO of Ravinia, suggested that Lewis, the jazz artistic director there, compose a score for the Joffrey. The pianist met with the ballet company’s then executive director, Jon Teeuwissen, and then set forth to work on an hour’s worth of material. Joffrey choreography began in April 2007 for the June 2007 performance. A month before the premiere Lewis saw his first rehearsal. The troupe put his recorded demos on and began to dance. “The way they moved brought tears to my eyes,” says Lewis. “When I started out in bands when I was 16, people danced to our music. This took me back 50 years, and here I was writing for dancing again.”

At Ravinia, the performance garnered a rousing applause from the audience and critical plaudits from the press. Lewis says, “My son pointed out to me that this was the first concert of mine he had seen that got a standing ovation without me having to play the hits. That told me something about focusing more intently on composition.”

Kauffman was so impressed that he immediately commissioned Lewis to write new works for Ravinia in 2008. He decided to compose for a string quartet to accompany his trio. On the recommendation of his good friend and fellow pianist Dr. Billy Taylor, Lewis enlisted the Turtle Island Quartet to perform a suite of eight new originals.

On Songs From the Heart, Lewis offers graceful music, played with a light, gentle, joyful touch, and focused on melody. Writing in the CD liner notes, Lewis pointed out that in the CD’s initial planning stages, all artistic and record company parties agreed that Songs From the Heart should be characterized by “heartfelt, lyrical and inspirational” music “that my fans had come to expect.”

Ramsey Lewis on Tour:

October 2-4: Yoshi’s, San Francisco, CA
October 14: Disney Hall, Los Angeles, CA (with Ann Hampton Callaway)
October 15-18: Jazz Alley, Seattle, WA
October 21: Wharton Center, East Lansing, MI (with Ann Hampton Callaway)
October 22: Royce Auditorium, Grand Rapids, MI
November 4: Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, Dallas, TX

Source: DL/Media