Music Monday: Ramsey Lewis

At various points in my life, I have become aware that much of what I do isn’t really fun. What I read, what I do to unwind, and what I listen to. (Obviously being a Philadelphia sports fan is NOT fun). I’m not sure what triggers this descent into un-fun-ness. I suspect it has to do with a desire to find substance in a world dominated by easy pleasures and distractions. Or maybe, I’m just not a very fun person and this is just how I roll.

Every now and then, my listening habits start to wear me down, and take a deep breath and turn on something fun. The passing of Ramsey Lewis this last week gave me an excuse to create a massive Ramsey Lewis playlist. 

At its heart are his two 1960s masterpieces: The In Crowd (1965) 

And Another Voyage (1969)

Ramsey Lewis recorded some of the deepest, most elegant, most compelling, and most fun soul jazz of the 1960s and 1970s.

He could turn “Hang on Sloopy” into a Latin-tinged anthem in 1965: 

And then take it to an entirely different level by inject it with some funk-inflected fusion goodness in 1973:

He could record a bunch of Beatles songs from the White Album with the Chicago Symphony (featuring a theremin?) and actually give them a bit of soul:

He could give Summertime some funk without damaging it: 

And add disco to Stevie Wonder’s “Living in the City”:

The album cover of his 1974 album Sun Goddess is worth the price of admission alone:

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What pains me a bit is that quite a few of his classic albums from the 1960s and 1970s recorded for the Argo and Cadet labels as well as for the mighty Columbia aren’t readily available from the usual streaming services. Meanwhile, we’re offered more and more deep cuts from Coltrane, Miles, Mingus, and Monk, serious and worthy artists to be sure, but Ramsey Lewis’s voluminous and intensely entertaining catalogue remains a bit hit and miss. Needless to say, there have been no lavishly produced deep dives into his live catalogue (the anthology of Lewis’s Columbia recordings from 1973-1974 and released in 2016 by the UK’s SoulMusic Records is fine, but it just scratches the surface of Lewis’s recordings). Let’s hope that his passing will encourage a deeper dive into his voluminous catalogue and more serious consideration of his remarkable career. Even if this doesn’t produce profound new insights into the nature of jazz, the character of the soul, or the depth of funk, it should would be fun. 

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