Review: Ramsey Lewis celebrates 80 with new jazz concerto for Chicago Symphony

Posted on: August 10, 2015

“It isn’t often that a leading jazz musician makes his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut at age 80—playing the world premiere of his first concerto,” writes Howard Reich in Monday’s (8/10) Chicago Tribune (subscription required). “But that’s how Chicagoan Ramsey Lewis marked the milestone birthday, which he celebrated privately May 27 and publicly Saturday night before a large audience at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. Lewis has served as Ravinia’s jazz director since 1993, and for roughly the past decade the festival has commissioned him to write increasingly ambitious, quasi-classical works. His Concerto for Jazz Trio and Orchestra, however, stands as the most challenging of these projects…. Lewis, with [orchestrator and arranger Scott] Hall’s support, has created a valuable, potentially significant piece that deserves a life well beyond this first performance…. The concerto grappled seriously with its musical material, transforming ideas, building on its themes…. Harmonically, too, the second movement showed substance.… By the third movement, this piece had gained critical mass, Lewis’ trio and the orchestra making a large-scale argument fully worthy of the occasion and the setting.… The expansiveness of the jazz trio’s sections [was] matched by the sweep of the orchestral orations.”

Posted August 10, 2015