From Benny Goodman to Wynton Marsalis, musicians have famously commuted between the two realms of jazz and classical music. Meanwhile, composers from George Gershwin to Duke Ellington to Leonard Bernstein have negotiated areas of artistic agreement that have linked certain of their traditions in often exciting ways, and thus have created the bedrock of symphonic jazz.
Ramsey Lewis, artistic director of Jazz at Ravinia, has joined the ranks of those who have contributed to this lively body of work, which has loosened the way in which modern music is created. To commemorate his 80th birthday, Ravinia commissioned Lewis to compose Concerto for Jazz Trio and Orchestra, a four-movement work that will receive its world premiere in a concert Aug. 8 by his own trio and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (with which he will simultaneously be making his debut as pianist).
Coming from a deep jazz background that goes back nearly 60 years to the release of his first album, “Ramsey Lewis and His Gentle-Men of Swing” (1956), Lewis recently discussed, in an interview with Ravinia magazine, what he hopes to bring to the genre. Known for such hits as “The In Crowd” and “Wade in the Water,” Lewis calls himself “a Romanticist at heart, not in the Tin Pan Alley sense, but in the spirit of the Romantic period of classical music. I like beautiful melodies. I imagine only how a given part will sound when the orchestra comes in, or perhaps doesn’t come in. And there are parts when the orchestra is on its own and soaring. The only thing in my mind was the evening itself and how the music would sound; my intent was to let the music follow its own logic and not some external narrative.
“I regard the occasion itself as a major event, particularly because of my growing up in Chicago and my relationship to music in Chicago. I would go to the Chicago Symphony in Orchestra Hall when I was 11 or 12 years old. Who would ever think that one day I would get to play with them, and that I would get to play my own work? For me, that was the impetus and motivation that was in my mind while composing.”
To read the full interview, click here.