HAPPY BIRTHDAY RAMSEY: STILL THE IN CROWD @ 80


posted by Robert J. Carmack  #@blues2jazzguy

Ramsey Lewis in Color older version
Ramsey Lewis posing in recent times

Composer, Pianist, TV host and Jazz legend RAMSEY LEWIS has been referred to as “the great performer,”  a title reflecting his performance and style. It seems strange saying Ramsey Lewis in the same sentence as 80 years old.  Still youthful looking and playing at the peek of his power ,one would never know it.

I grew up on Ramsey sort of..I mean, One day me and a buddy was fooling around with his cousin’s jazz albums listening and just checking out people we never heard of before. we were able to do this unsupervised because his cousin was in Viet Nam, a long ways away from seeing us . Especially since we were only 13, well, almost 14.

We were just trying to be cool and mature by knowing all the latest Cats in Jazz and those before as well. Anyway, I ran across this one album that had a beautiful black woman with a dress sitting by a pond barefooted looking all sexy.

As all young boys do, we started bragging on our latest girls looking as good or better than . Finally I said,  “lets play that record?” my friend said, ” Man,I don’t know??? looking at them  is one thing, but playing it might mean trouble. But I egged him on by telling him he was chicken,”I’m Not CHICKEN! ,He said loudly. “OK you not chicken then play it and prove it, I replied.

Huffing and puffing, He finally reached over and took the album out of the sleeve and put it on the stereo Hi-Fi (that’s right Hi-Fi).. from the very first cut we were popping our fingers and lighting imaginary “Joints” , then we went into full “Hipster-mode” the rest of that whole album. This album “swung like a gate” on a well-oiled post.

Barefoot Sunday Blues .(ARGO Jazz label, a div. of Chicago based CHESS Records.)

I was a fan from that day on, then the big day came. Ramsey hit #1 on the radio, a cover song to an already Hit Soul tune by Dobie Gray, “The IN-CROWD”. That sealed the deal for me, that one cut changed the whole music industry for jazz. Here we are 50 years later, and Ramsey is still part of the In-Crowd, just ask anybody in music like Nancy Wilson or Quincy Jones.  

His performances and records touch all genres of music for the last 6 decades. A native Chicagoan born May 27, 1935, Ramsey represents the great diverse music for which Chicago is noted. Ramsey Lewis first captivated fans with his first album Ramsey Lewis And The Gentlemen of Swing by the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1956.

He has three Grammy Awards and Seven Gold Records to his credit. Often called legendary, Mr. Lewis concedes “It’s a high honor when someone says so, but I don’t see myself that way. What keeps me enthusiastic and energizes me, is the realization that the more I learn, the more I find there is to know.”

Ramsey Lewis Trio in Europe  1960s
Ramsey Lewis Trio in Europe 1960s photo by William Claxton

Hipster Retro: Coming Soon Interview with Woodwinds/Percussionist Derf Reklaw


Derf Reklaw
Derf Reklaw
‘The Pharaohs were one of the forgotten treasures of ’70s R&B, a freewheeling jazz-funk congregation heavily influenced by Chicago’s jazz avant-garde as well as on-the-one funk and African motifs.’
 Unfortunately, they recorded only one album before Earth, Wind & Fire frontman Maurice White (who played in an early version of the Pharaohs) hired several of its members to form the Phenix Horns, the justly celebrated horn section for Earth,Wind &Fire during the 70s.
The group was formed from several jazz bands active around Chicago’s Afro Arts Theater, a community educational collective.
One of the bands, the Jazzmen, was formed in the early ’60s around trumpeter Charles Handy, trombone player Louis Satterfield, and alto Don Myrick (along with three who didn’t survive later conglomeration: pianist Fred Humphrey, bassist Ernest McCarthy, and drummer Maurice White). The other main component of the Pharaohs was the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, who had already recorded one late-’60s LP with cornetist, Philip Cohran, a veteran of Sun Ra’s Arkestra and AACM.
By the time of the Pharaohs’ 1971 recording debut, Awakening, the group included Handy, Myrick, and Satterfield plus Big Willie Woods on trombone, Oye Bisi and Shango Njoko Adefumi on African drums, Yehudah Ben Israel on guitar and vocals, Alious Watkins on trap drums, Derf Reklaw-Raheem on percussion and flute, and Aaron Dodd on tuba.

Back in the ’60s, before the Pharaohs were formed, Handy, Satterfield, and Maurice White had often contributed to sessions at Chicago’s Chess studios, so when White recorded a demo for a new band he wanted to form, both Handy and Satterfield appeared on it. After he signed to Warner Bros., they also began recording Earth,Wind &Fire material and eventually were officially hired by White as the Phenix Horns, with the addition of Pharaohs Yehudah Ben Israel and Rahm Lee, plus Michael Harris. The Pharaohs soldiered on until 1973, but called it quits without recording another studio album.

Derf Reklaw became a respected world-jazz leader, while Woods and Dodd both appeared on many soul sessions around Chicago during the ’70s. In 1996, the acid jazz label Luv ‘N’ Haight reissued Awakening and also released the 1972 live outing, In the Basement.
John Bush, All Music Guide(reprinted from all music guide-2008