Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis to headline Chicago festival Saturday

CHICAGO — After three Grammys and more than 80 albums, jazz legend Ramsey Lewis may be ready to call it a career.

But you never really stop making music when you're one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.

Lewis happened upon super stardom with a crossover hit at a time when crossovers just weren't something jazz musicians did. The surprise hit would go on to earn Lewis one of his three Grammys and cement him in history as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time.

He said it never gets old.

"You know why? Because once we state the melody, they get up and they dance. When we get to the solo part, we go off and it’s never the same."

After performing on stage since he was 9, Lewis decided to give retirement a test drive.

"I had two weeks off, maybe three weeks," he said, "and I thought: Let me see how it’s going to feel if I’m retired."

But for a man who has put out 80 albums and seven gold records, and collected a host of honors, relaxing may be the one thing he’s not good at doing.

“I did that for a couple of days and said, 'This is pretty good,'" he recalled. "'The third day it’s like, 'Eh, it’s okay.' The fourth day it was like, 'Hmmm ... I don’t know.'"

Lewis joined his first jazz band at 15. Exposure to music at an early age supported his obvious natural talents. He says the next great jazz musician may be sitting in a high school band class right now.

"I went to Wells High School. We had a marching band, we had a concert band, we had an orchestra, we had an industrial arts class," Lewis said. "The arts were all over that school. So when they knocked that out of the public school system, we lost a lot of kids that could have contributed to the scene as we know it."

Of the hundreds of songs he’s composed, Lewis said he has a difficult time choosing a favorite.

"No, I don’t have any one. ... I have many ... Do you have about three hours?"

Lewis will perform at the Chicago Jazz Festival over Labor Day weekend with a show at Pritzker Pavilion on Saturday night.

Tickets are free.

For information, visit chicagojazzfestival.us