H. Johnson reflects on the brilliantly versatile Jazz Master keyboardist Ramsey Lewis
WABE’s H. Johnson has been a fixture on our station since 1978. As host of both “Blues Classics” and “Jazz Classics,” H. continually educates and entertains WABE listeners every Friday and Saturday night. Now, H. joins “City Lights” every other Friday to share a bit from his breadth of jazz knowledge. The segment, “H. Johnson’s Jazz Moment,” explores selections from the best of H.’s music collection along with tidbits from history, personal reflections and H.’s thoughts on the evergreen resonance of jazz.
For this edition of “Jazz Moment,” we listen to the brilliantly versatile pianist Ramsey Lewis, who passed away this year. Known for jazz but virtuosic in classical performance as well, Lewis is also remembered for his admirable personality. “Because of his success, he was not arrogant. He didn’t become cocky, self-centered or condescending; none of that stuff sometimes you can attribute to people who have become very successful in the media. He was down-to-earth all the way,” said Johnson.
An astoundingly prolific musician, Lewis leaves us with 80 albums of his music. Best known might be the hit album “The In Crowd,” which won the “Best Jazz Performance” Grammy in 1965. Lewis would scoop up two more Grammys, five gold records, an honorary doctorate and the title “Jazz Master” by the National Endowment of the Arts along the path of his shining career. Johnson expects much of our audience to have heard jazz hits from “The In Crowd” whether they know it or not, and chose to share instead Ramsey Lewis in the style that first caught his ear — the blues.
Featured track “Blues for the Night Owl” “encompasses all the feeling, and gutsy feeling, of the blues idiom,” according to Johnson. It opens with an improvised soundscape, a moody cloud of anticipation dappled with tremolo-laden Wurlitzer organ and jittering percussion before strutting forth on an irresistible groove with handclaps and agile hi-hat work by drummer Morris Jennings. Lewis’s approach to the keys is deliciously laid-back and dripping with presence; his improvisations luxuriate in cyclical riffs, celebrating his dominant seventh for as long as he pleases.
Catch “H. Johnson’s Blue Classics” every Friday from 10 p.m. to midnight, and “Jazz Classics” every Saturday from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. on WABE 90.1 Atlanta.