Sun God – Ramsey Lewis

I really didn’t know what to expect from Ramsey Lewis, and having never been to the One World Theatre in Austin, my anicipation was high. I wasn’t disappointed.

The One World Theater is the corollary of many of Austins music venues, its small, intimate and and has great sound. The Ramsey Lewis trio, plus Lewis, barely needed amplification and were all very clear. I was in the isle seat, center left just 3-rows back. I bought my Olympus SLR camera and got it in without trouble, but based on an early experience with a woman shooting video, taking pictures was going to be difficult. Besides, I really wanted to just enjoy the music.

Sun Goddess revisitedThe whole evening was more souful than I could have imagined; given the clarity of the music, the proximity of the stage and the small audience. Lewis played a number of his well known tracks including the 60’s classics Wade in the Water and the In Crowd, he also did a fantastic solo piano of Betcha By Golly Wow, a Stylistics song and a Beatles classic, which now, almost a month later, I’ve forgotten. The theater was hushed, Lewis was in fine, lively form, and the piano sounded perfect.

Ultimately, as a true Lewis fanboy, Lewis and some of his older tracks live was the high point of my concert going experiences. Lewis’s 1970 album the Piano Player would have been fantastic to watch them record. Maurice White from Earth, Wind and Fire was the drummer for that album, and the tracks were arranged by Charles Stepney who also arranged those key influential early Earth, Wind and Fire albums. [I even added Lewis version of Golden Slumbers to the wikipedia page since it was missing!]. The other member of the Ramsey Lewis trio on the Piano Player was Cleveland Eaton, one time Count Basie Orchestra leader, who went on to record this seminal jazz/funk/disco classic, Bama Boogie Woogie.

The circle of musical life was complete for me when Lewis later came back on for an encore to play the title track from the album Sun Goddess. I’d heard this back in 1974, the harmonies, the beat, the sound changed my outlook on music and to a degree, my life. A few years after that I got a tattoo, and was a massive Earth, Wind & Fire fan.

After the concert was over I waited quietly outside hoping to get a picture with Ramsey Lewis, he came out about 30-minutes later. A woman appeared from nowhere with a stack of vinyl albums for him to sign, he seemed slightly testy. Then some other guy with an old school 35mm film camera stopped him and asked for a picture; I walked alongside him, thanked him for his great music, told him sun goddess had changed my life; after 2-complete sets, instead of the vibrant guy on stage, Lewis had taken on the demeanor of a 76 year old man, late at night. I didn’t ask for a picture, afterall I’ve got the tattoo.

Lewis did an interview and played piano with the KUT folks while in town. You can hear that here, or download the MP3 here.

Author: Mark Cathcart

Formerly an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Prior to that, an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm currently "retired until further notice".

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