Music preview: Ramsey Lewis plugs in to revive Sun Goddess band

Ramsey Lewis plugs in to revive Sun Goddess band


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If you're a jazz traditionalist, it's easy to forget that pianist Ramsey Lewis went electric for a brief period in the 1970s. However, pop and urban music fans aren't about to, especially considering his now-classic "Sun Goddess" album of that period and its title track.

Mr. Lewis, after performing for decades with his eponymous acoustic trio, is returning to those days Friday at the Manchester Craftmen's Guild with an electric-based quintet he used back then.

Ramsey Lewis: The Sun Goddess Tour

Where: Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Jazz Concert Hall.

When: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday.

Tickets: $72.50, www.mcgjazz.com, 412-322-0800.


The way Mr. Lewis tells it, his agent noticed there was still a demand to hear that music after four decades and asked if he were willing to revisit it. "After riding that out, I went back to the trio and the trio felt pretty damn good," he says of that time, but agreed to put an ensemble back together. He called a jam session with four other musicians that was supposed to last an hour, including material from that album from 40 years ago.

But then the magic began to happen.

"Two hours went by, and I didn't want to stop -- it was so wonderful," Mr. Lewis says. "We were laughing and grinning [throughout]." When he asked them if they were willing to go on the road, they agreed. He's out with guitarist Henry Johnson, bassist Joshua Ramos, drummer Charles Heath and Tim Gant on electric keyboards.

Mr. Lewis, a 78-year-old lifelong Chicagoan, already had some familiarity with the pop charts thanks to his mid-1960s acoustic hit "The 'In' Crowd," which was recorded live at a jazz club in Washington, D.C.

He had another accidental hit with "Sun Goddess," produced and co-written by Mr. Lewis' former drummer Maurice White, who left to form Earth, Wind & Fire. It was a throwaway tune cut from an EWF album, and to this day the band performs it live.

That's not all Mr. Lewis is doing on this tour, however. He was commissioned to write music for the Joffrey Ballet, the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln and for the Turtle Island String Quartet.

"Composing has become a major part of what I do, so we'll do a couple of those songs in Pittsburgh," he says, adding, "We must play some of the tried-and-true hits," such as the two aforementioned tunes and "Wade in the Water."

Which is fine with him, as he's having so much fun.

"We've been on the road, grinning with each other," he says. "This band is so good, I may go to the grave with this band."


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