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Ramsey Lewis

It must be a Chicago thing. The rapport between Midwest natives Dr. Ramsey Lewis and Dr. Guthrie Ramsey flowed with the calm comfort of old friends reminiscing about the “good ol’ days.”  Launching the first night of the Center for Africana Studies Spring 2010 Artist-in-Residence Master Class series at University of Pennsylvania on March 17th, the enthusiastic audience was given an experience quite different from the norm. Often, we demand of our musicians to simply be musicians—performing, recording, and entertaining. However, it was on this night that the audience was given the rare opportunity to hear one of the world’s most important musicians discuss and analyze his own music through the candid interview-style of Prof. Ramsey.

The night began with a biographical navigation of the early career trajectory of Dr. Lewis, beginning with his first gig at the tender age of 9, in his father’s church.

“The worst words I’ve ever heard my mother say…My father would come home from work and she would say to him, ‘Lewis, sonny didn’t practice today, “  Lewis said, in discussing the early push his parents made on his music.

Beginning as a biographical discussion on the early career trajectory of Dr. Lewis, the conversation moved towards a more cerebral take on the life of the artist.

Throughout the event, Dr. Lewis showed a laid-back cool, devoid of any grandiosity—a trait which would be understood considering his stature. In the many captivating stories he told that night, colossal names such as Buddy Rich and Art Blakey were used with such an ease, it was evident that Dr. Lewis holds a humble understanding and recognition of the unique space in which he occupies. When questioned about this seemingly grounded approach to a life of stardom and celebrity, Dr. Lewis simply responded, “Music is my life.”

Art Blakey

Lewis went on to explain that he lives for music and grows within it every day. Everything that comes along with it is immaterial. It was this type of approach that drew the audience to the musician of over seventy years. The eager crowd often broke into applause and cheers as they truly felt connected to this musical journey. For a rare moment, artist and consumer became connected on a level unbeknown to many and enjoyed by few.