Music

20 Questions: Ramsey Lewis

Photo Credit: Michael Coakes

Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis chats with PopMatters 20 Questions about feeding the spirit and living in the moment.

With more than 80 albums to his credit (including five gold records and three Grammy Awards), composer, pianist, jazz legend Ramsey Lewis shows no signs of slowing down. Deemed a “Legendary Landmark” by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, and a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, he’s clearly having too much fun to rest on his laurels. He formed the Ramsey Lewis Foundation in 2005, a program to give at-risk children the gift of music in their lives. This program, like his music, will carry his legacy far into the future. His recently released Songs from the Heart (Concord) features 12 self-penned songs he’s written over the past 12 years, giving listeners a taste of Lewis’ early gospel style and classical training, and his well-established expertise in modern jazz.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Unless it’s a great comedy where most of my friends said they cracked up laughing, I take a box of Kleenex just in case. Who says a man ain’t supposed to cry?

2. The fictional character most like you?

My wife, Jan is the fiction reader. She occasionally makes suggestions that I enjoy, but I find there are so many stories and non-fiction characters that I admire for so many varied reasons that the list would not fit this page.

3. The greatest album, ever?

There is no such animal. Presently I have over 11,000 songs on my iPod and this list is still growing. What feels satisfying to me today might not tomorrow or next week. The best album I ever heard was the one I just listened to, unless I’m spending time researching other cultures or auditioning new music/artists. So then… you never know!

4. Star Trek or Star Wars

Either, on rare occasions.

Artist: Ramsey Lewis

Album: Songs from the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey

Label: Concord

US Release Date: 2009-09-29

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/ramseylewisplyashimself-cov.jpg5. Your ideal brain food?

Bach and Art Tatum. Of course they both feed the spirit, too.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I find pride to be elusive and fleeting. It causes one to spend too much time thinking about the past. I’d rather come to the moment and enjoy what I’m doing right now. If I’m not enjoying it, why am I doing it?

7. You want to be remembered for...?

Whatever I did to advance the cause of peace in this world. Why is the human race so bent on destroying itself?

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Martin Luther King, JR., Duke Ellington and Thomas A. Dorsey.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The one I write when I am 100 years old.

Artist: Ramsey Lewis

Album: The Very Best of Ramsey Lewis

Label: Grp

US Release Date: 2006-03-28

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/ramseylewis-verybest-cover.jpg10. Your hidden talents...?

I can’t find them and I quit looking years ago when my piano lessons started.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Get about the business of knowing who you really are, then follow your bliss.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

It may sound trite but it’s honest, “the best things in life are free” -- peace, love and charity. If we would just all practice what we preach!

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or...?

I feel best in whatever is the best for the occasion… Armani, khakis, or...

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Stephen Hawking and Bob Holmes, who continues to be one of my best friends from childhood.

Artist: Ramsey Lewis

Album: Ramsey Lewis' Finest Hour

Label: Polygram

US Release Date: 2000-09-12

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/columns_art/r/ramlewfinesthour-cover.jpg15. Time travel: where, when and why?

Time is a man-made convenience. Why go there? Now is the only time there is.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

None of them get to the source of why any of us feels the need for something outside of ourselves to deal with what ails us. Until you find the you inside yourself, there will always be dreams, illusions and perceptions that will cause you suffering.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or...?

None of the above! You haven’t been listening!

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I’m a city guy. I love Chicago and the only island I enjoy is Manhattan Island.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

At present, that would be Barack Obama. Stick to your campaign promises and don’t let those who are more concerned with their own personal or political advancement distract you from what is good for the country.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Some original pieces for solo piano.

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