Smitty: Our special guest in the spotlight is one of the greatest piano players in the world. He’s created music beyond the imagination, a Grammy award wining artist. He has just released a wonderful project titled With One Voice. Please welcome Narada Jazz recording artist, the legendary Ramsey Lewis, Ramsey how are you doing my friend?
Ramsey Lewis: (RL): I’m great. It’s great to talk with you, and how are you doing today?
Smitty: Wonderful thank you, so how is it in Chicago?
RL: We haven’t decided that fall should come yet. It’s been 85, 89 degrees and it’s supposed to be like 50-55 degrees outside, but that’s okay. You know, I love Chicago, it’s in my blood so I’ll always live here (laughing).
Smitty: Well I'll tell you, being a former mid-westerner, I moved to Texas some time ago, but when I lived in St. Louis, I spent a lot of time in Chicago, and I must echo your sentiments, I love Chicago.
Smitty: Yes indeed. Let’s talk Ramsey, and we could talk for hours about this; your career spans so many years and you have such a remarkable career. Talk about those who were the early influences in your life and career, who helped you to elevate your career, to really put you on the path to doing what you love most.
RL: Well I think we have to start with my Mother and Father, because they continued my piano lessons. I wanted to start piano, but after I found out you’re supposed to practice, I didn’t want to continue, but they said ‘you’ve started now you’re going to stay with it’. Then it moves on to a lady named Dorothy Mendelson. When I was eleven years old I began to study piano with her and she really peaked my interest, that’s when I really began to love music and really love the piano, the sound of the piano, the feel of the piano, and figured that I would probably practice and play the piano for the rest of my life. At that point, eleven, twelve years old, of course I did not see the bright lights, the big city or hit records, or any thing like that. I just loved music, period. At fifteen years old, Wallace Burton, another young man, who was attending our church, he was in college and they had a college dance band that played for various functions and fashion shows on the weekends, and he asked me if I would play with his band. I knew nothing about jazz at that point. I knew gospel and classical music. Dad had brought home some Duke Ellington, Nat Cole Trio, and things like that, but I was pretty much buried in classical and gospel.So Wallace Burton took me aside and said ‘come over to my house and I’ll get you started on what this jazz business is about’, and he did. And there it is. Oh! Danny O’Dailey, he was a disc jockey here in Chicago, we had our trio, and we were playing only on weekends, still just picking up loose change, and he heard us, and he was the guy who got us a record deal.
Smitty: Oh ho, yeah!
RL: I think yeah, that those people and no doubt others, you know along the way Billy Taylor, I mean if I start naming people, it’ll take a longtime because along the way in a musicians career, in fact in anyone’s professional career, there are people who do or say even little things that would inspire you, or pick up a phone and call somebody on your behalf, so there’s been a lot of that too.
Smitty: Yes I can just imagine, those are fond memories now, as you look back at those wonderful times leading up to the beautiful time you’re having now in your career.
RL: It’s a wonderful time, it’s a wonderful time, although there are eighty records that I have recorded, With One Voice, is the eightieth one. It’s gorgeous and what’s interesting to me is, I turned seventy years old this year.
Smitty: Wow, congratulations my friend!
RL: I keep blossoming, I mean not only the record career, but in concertizing, I have two radio shows, and then there’s a television show that we are filming and taping shows to start airing in 2006.
Smitty: Wow! That sounds exciting.
RL: And it’s just wonderful, and none of these things; not unlike playing the piano and having a career in music, none of these things did I sat down and say ‘well one day I want to do this and one day I want to do that'. I just always kinda stayed with what I was doing in the present, and did the best I could do with that, and out of that. Whatever it was, it just grew other things, blessings, blessings, many blessings.
Smitty: Yes, and isn’t that the way. I must say one thing about Time Flies, I truly, truly enjoyed and still enjoy that record, it’s just a magnificent piece of music, book of music, and I just had to mention that because I was so overwhelmed by that particular one among many others but, Time Flies is just a great project that you put together.
RL: Well I set out to do an album of original material and while doing it, other songs started coming to mind, my bass player suggested a couple of classical pieces, and for some reason I could never get away from gospel music, so I ended up doing a Kirk Franklin tune and a Yolanda Adams tune. So it was more or less a collage of a lot of different kinds of music that I love. It came out very well, I’m very proud of it. Thank you for liking it.
Smitty: Yes indeed, well let’s talk about this new record With One Voice, talk about the title just briefly if you would, why the title, With One Voice?
RL: Well I think that it’s instructive to people, that we are one people, there is one God, there’s one earth, and we best look after each other, love each other, take care of each other, take care of this earth, and praise God, or we will pay the consequences.