Published on: August 29, 2016
September 17, 2016 – Ramsey Lewis – World Artist, Classic Treasure
Welcome to the opening of the 119th Season of the Peoria Symphony Orchestra! And what an opener! We begin with our World Artist Series and the eminent Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis and his Jazz Trio. Described as an iconic leader in the contemporary Jazz movement for over 50 years, Ramsey has released over eighty recordings (seven reaching gold) and won three Grammy Awards – among his other numerous honors. With an unforgettable sound and outgoing personality he has captured the hearts and admiration of listeners throughout the world, spanning both generations and cultures, not just in Jazz, but also in Pop and R&B. And now over eighty years young, his beat goes on stronger than ever.
This is a special concert for the PSO because it highlights a side of Ramsey’s artistry that has been developing throughout his life. An Illinois native son, Ramsey began piano lessons at age four. He had aspirations to become a classical concert pianist and studied classical music for over fifteen years – a difficult career path for an African-American artist in the 1940’s. He also immersed himself in the fervent Jazz scene of his hometown Chicago – beginning when a member of his church’s band invited him to a jam session. As his Jazz opportunities flowed, his classical pursuits ebbed (See interview below). Yet, his classical inspirations remained active, if in the background. Intrigued by the music of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Ravel, a dream grew within him – to compose a Concerto for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra. Well, some seven decades later, Peoria is going to experience Ramsey’s dream come true. The concerto was premiered at the Ravinia Festival in 2015 for his eightieth birthday celebration and our performance will be its second ever! I am honored and excited to be performing this work, so dear to Ramsey. And, he honors us with this performance. How so? Go to his website by clicking here. Notice his schedule for this season. He’s performing all over the world, all over the US – at legendary Jazz clubs and great festivals – Paris, London, New York, Chicago, Korea, New Zealand. His appearance in Peoria is the only orchestral performance he has agreed to this year!
Ramsey’s concerto is an inspired alchemy of Jazz styles, improvisations, quartet interludes, and solo virtuosity all woven into a large symphonic tapestry. The orchestra is an equal partner in this collaboration and shows off his genius for melody, counterpoint, and rich harmonies. Scott Hall, the arranger for the concerto, says that while Jazz is certainly in the forefront of this work, classical music influences simmer below the surface with a sound only Ramsey can conjure. In homage to these composers he so admires, the PSO will perform a few short classical works hand-picked by Ramsey – with cameo appearances by PSO Concertmaster Marcia Henry Liebenow and PSO Guild competition winner Elizabeth Lindqwister. The quartet will return to the stage to end the evening with more of Ramsey’s improvisatory genius.
Like last year’s performance by Audra McDonald, the PSO/Ramsey Lewis concert is a historic event for Peoria. He’s a national cultural treasure you will want to experience! Ramsey is not only a great artist, but also a generous mentor to young musicians. He heads the Ravinia Jazz Institute and passes along his inspiration to future generations of artists. Below are a few links to find out a little more about Ramsey and his music. And stay tuned for Ramsey in interview on WTVP’s “Consider This!” the day before the concert.
I hope you will join us for this exceptional evening of great music on the PSO’s 2016-2017 World Artist Series!
Interview w/ Ramsey Lewis on Creativity and His Classical Influences
Ramsey Lewis Biography
Ramsey Lewis “The In Crowd”
Ramsey Lewis w/ Earth Wind and Fire