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Ramsey Lewis enthralls audience at jazz fest

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From gospel to John Coltrane to Stevie Wonder to himself, Ramsey Lewis played it all Friday night to an enthusiastic audience at the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival.

The Chicago native, performing mainly on piano but also on Rhodes electric piano, had his audience from the first notes of the opening tune, Wade in the Water, one of his 1960s crossover hits. And he held their attention through 95 minutes of great music until he bookended his Burton Cummings Theatre show with the widely popular The In Crowd.

There was a lot of gospel in the 77-year-old’s set list to get audience members swaying in their seats, and more than a dash of funk in Wonder’s Living For The City to get hands clapping and bums moving.

He took chestnuts like To Know Her is to Love Her and, with the help of guitarist Henry Johnson, gave it some new life and appeal. Johnson, another Chicagoan, played a key role in Lewis’s band, helping set the pace playing rhythm and taking tasteful, yet powerful solos throughout the night.

The music of John Coltrane made it into the mix as well, in a medley of the saxophonist’s Dear Lord and Lewis’s own composition, Blessings, with delightful piano solos and spare, tasteful accompaniment from band members Johnson, bassist Joshua Ramos, drummer Charles Heath and keyboard player Tim Gant.

Another ballad, Love Song, featured delicate piano work by Lewis augmented with some atmospheric playing by Gant. Brasilica, a Latin-tinged number was set up as a showcase for drummer Heath.

The band included Sun Goddess, the title tune from Lewis’s successful 1970s electric band album, before giving the audience what they had been waiting for all night, The In Crowd.

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