The In Crowd

To cap off the triumvirate of great shows in Paris I saw for my birthdayweek, I walked about 2 blocks from our apartment tonight to see the great Ramsey Lewis play. Although a very capable jazz pianist, Lewis’ most popular and enduring music seems to be his interpretations of the pop songs of the day. He was one of the first jazz dudes to acknowledge that jazz standards are mostly old pop tunes anyway. He even did an entire album of songs from The Beatles’ White Album, something that’s right up my alley. The first thing I did when I got to the club was talk to a lady whose American accent I’d overheard, who turned out to be Ramsey’s wife, Jan. 

I grew up listening to and heavily influenced by Ramsey Lewis (along with other soul jazz legends Les McCann, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy McGriff, and Oscar Peterson), so it was a real treat to finally see him play in person. He sounds really good, especially for an octogenarian who’s had some health issues in recent years. His bandmates were all excellent, and hewed closely to the sound of the original recordings, especially the huge dynamics that are part of why those records are so rewarding. Lewis and company played a moving tribute to his recently departed friend and bandmate, Maurice White (before founding Earth, Wind, & Fire, White played drums for Ramsey’s second trio.), and of course saved his biggest hits “Wade In The Water” and “The In Crowd” for the encore. I had hoped for “Les Fleurs”, a deep cut from a 1968 album*, and “Hang On Sloopy”, a pop crossover hit from 1965, but what are you going to do when you have 50+ years of material?!

My only quibble? An audience that veered toward the disrespectfully loud (including a fight broke out during a solo piano ballad, duh) and the standing-room-only scenario that caused me to stand on part of the bar to get a better view of my favourite songs. Well, and that I wasn’t invited on stage to jam. They probably just forgot.

* Another EW&F connection here, since “Les Fleurs” was written by their producer, mentor, and arranger Charles Stepney, and Richard Rudolph. The latter was married to virtuosa singer Minnie Riperton, who also recorded a deeply funky version of “Les Fleurs”, and their daughter is the pants-pissingly funny Maya Rudolph. This has been 20th Century Music Trivia with your host Doug Organ.