Gentleman of Jazz: A Life in Music

Blackstone. May 2023. 200p. ISBN 9798200951727. $27.99. BIOG
During the last two years of his life, jazz/gospel/classical pianist Lewis (1935–2022) collaborated with Aaron Cohen (Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power) on this brief autobiography. Although told by Lewis, he wanted other voices to help tell his story, so periodically others break into the narrative to give their (sometimes differing) perspectives. Lewis begins with his childhood in Chicago, where he exhibited an early interest in the piano, taking classical lessons and playing gospel music for a church. Influenced by the classical-jazz hybrid of the smartly dressed Modern Jazz Quartet, Lewis chronicles his signing to Chess Records, which, in 1956, released his debut Ramsey Lewis and his Gentle-Men of Swing. That was followed by more than 30 recordings until 1972, when Ramsey moved to Columbia Records. The pianist explains the crossover popularity of his 1965 hit “The ‘In’ Crowd,” which sold more than a million copies, and his popular foray into funk in 1974 with Sun Goddess. The book closes with his experiments in classical music and ballet and his work as a host of radio and television programs.
VERDICT Lewis provides a straightforward, candid, and lively account of his more than 60-year-long musical journey that will appeal to general readers and jazz fans.
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