Friends and family remember jazz legend, Ramsey Lewis, who died Monday at his Chicago home. He was 87 years old.
Lewis’ passion was discovered as a preschooler when he started taking piano lessons. He would grow to be one of the country’s most successful jazz pianists and composers, with a career spanning six decades, 80 albums, including seven gold records and 3 Grammys.
“The teacher said he had talent – and they (my parents) continued to cultivate that talent,” said Bobby Lewis, son of Ramsey Lewis. “The excitement and energy of the fans kept him going. He loved talking to people and performing.”
Lewis grew up in Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project. He played the piano in church and was encouraged by his parents to adopt classical music, then jazz.
“He started playing in clubs when he was 15 or 16,” Bobby said.
Jazz soon became Lewis’ focus as he gained his own radio show on WNUA. “He was doing a morning show of soft WNUA jazz,” said Bob Kessler, a longtime friend of Lewis’s who once worked for him as producer of the syndicated radio show. “He was so well read in so many different areas. A lifelong learner.”
Chicago radio personality and friend Richard Steele echoed that sentiment.
“He crossed genres,” Steele said. “He was a great person and musician. I’m sorry he’s gone.
After his death, Lewis’ wife, Jan, wrote on her Facebook page: “Ramsey’s passion for music was truly fueled by the love and dedication of his fans around the world. He enjoyed touring and meeting music lovers from so many cultures and backgrounds. “
In lieu of flowers, family members are asking fans to donate to the Jazz Foundation of America.