American jazz pianist whose influence stretched from Britfunk groups in the 1970s to modern performers such as Mariah Carey
The American jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, who has died aged 87, enjoyed considerable crossover success. For almost 60 years Lewis was one of the world’s most popular jazz musicians: a knack for interpreting pop songs as jazz instrumentals won him youthful audiences and helped make Lewis’s records part of the soundtrack to British club culture. His ability to adapt and develop his sound as modern music changed ensured he retained his appeal to different generations of jazz and funk fans.
By the time Lewis experienced his breakthrough US hit with The In Crowd in 1965 he already had a decade’s experience as a bandleader alongside working with the celebrated musicians Max Roach, Sonny Stitt and Clark Terry. Whereas they pursued a modern jazz aesthetic that emphasised rigorous experimentation, Lewis chose to make less confrontational music and, in doing so, won a large international audience.
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