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NEA Jazz Master and renowned pianist Ramsey Lewis was also a legendary broadcaster

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Lee Mergner/photo library
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NEA Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis

NEA Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis, is being remembered as a pianist who was able to connect jazz and popular music. The three-time Grammy Award winning musician died Monday, September 12 at his home in Chicago. He was 87.

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John Abbott
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Ramsey Lewis performing in 2020

Throughout his career, Ramsey Lewis was the embodiment of jazz crossover. His affinity for gospel and blues tunes melded seamlessly with easygoing rock and soul standards of the 1960s. That effort turned into a big hit when his trio album was recorded at Washington D.C.'s fabled Bohemian Caverns in 1965. The title track of that album — "The 'In' Crowd," a cover of Dobie Gray's rhythm-and-blues hit from the previous year — made its own leap into the charts, spending 16 weeks on the Billboard Top 100.

While his own style of jazz was legendary, WBGO’s "Daybreak" host Gary Walker says Lewis had a successful career as a host of unique jazz programs.

"I think we can all agree Ramsey Lewis was a masterful musician, but many times it overshadowed his legendary abilities as a broadcaster. Consider if you will, his documentary series in 2005, Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis, as you watch the shows you'll notice not only the memorable individual performances but also the energy and excitement in created when great artists react and respond to each other. Dr. Billy Taylor and Dave Brubeck ripping through an Ellington classic, trumpeters Clark Terry and Roy Hargrove and Chris Botti letting us know the future of this music is in good hands. All of these things that excited Ramsey Lewis each and every day, he wanted you to feel as well."

Walker praised the program for its excellence, diversity and innovation.

"There were Blues fans too. Keb' Mo' and Robert Cray, Ramsey Lewis want you to feel that connection as well. Ramsey Lewis prided himself in letting you feel the continuum that is the art of Jazz past, present and future."

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Lee Mergner/photo library
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Ramsey was a legendary jazz musician and broadcaster who won three Grammy Awards

Walker stresses Lewis was a giant of a player and a giant as a broadcaster as well.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.