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Classical Or Jazz, Ramsey Lewis Is Right At Home

Jeff Dunn
Flickr via Creative Commons

A Grammy award-winning jazz superstar is making an appearance this weekend in central Illinois to give  the second-ever performance of a new work that combines jazz with classical music. The Ramsey Lewis Trio is appearing with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, Saturday at 8 PM in the Peoria Civic Center Theater to perform Lewis' Concerto for Jazz Trio and Orchestra.

"I have one foot in classical music and one foot in jazz, " said Ramsey Lewis.  "I started out studying classical music and got involved playing jazz when I was fifteen years old. Fortunately, my teachers were very serious about me learning to play classical music properly.  And I thought I was going to go in that direction permanently, except my teacher, very wisely, told my parents that there was nowhere for African Americans to go in classical music back in the day.  So she suggested to my parents to let me take advantage of any opportunities that come up. And fortunately, the opportunity came up for me to play jazz.  But I still seriously continued to study and perform classical music."

Lewis attributes some of his success in jazz to the discipline he acquired studying classical music. "The demands of the music on the page makes you use both hands equally," he explained. "Some jazz piano players let the left hand get lazy and just play chords in the left hand almost all the time. But classical music demands that you keep both hands in shape."

At 81, Lewis keeps himself in shape while on tour by making sure he eats right, concentrating on eating vegetables as a main part of his diet.  He exercises and gets plenty of sleep, plus he attributes having his wife with him as an important part of touring success. Then there's the glass of wine.

"A little glass of wine in the dressing room before I go on -- not too much -- just a little glass of wine, and here I go, watch out!"  

Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.