So… On Friday, October 2, 2015, I got to jam with one of my heroes: legendary pianist Ramsey Lewis.
If you don’t know who he is, then we can’t be friends. Go to Google right now, read his Wikipedia page, find his website and read everything on that, and then go listen to his music and buy his music. Once you have corrected that gross deficiency, return here and plead for my forgiveness. Ramsey Lewis is one of the foremost pianists in the world, particularly in the realm of jazz. Off the top of my head, there are only 4-5 living pianists that can even approach his stature. (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett… Yes. Off the top of my head.) This man is a giant. So, I went to the Meet and Greet at the Steinway Piano Gallery of Nashville on October 2 fully expecting to learn from one of the greatest musical minds… from the audience.
Mr. Lewis and his wife Jan were quietly talking with people when I arrived. Yes… I admit. I was too scared to talk to either one of them. As I said, this guy is one of my heroes. Eventually, the crowd made our way into the Recital Hall where he gave a small presentation. I staked my place out in the middle of the back row. I think he was overjoyed to see a 10 and a 12 year old sitting in the front row appropriately named MJ and Miles. (Boys, if I switched your two names, I apologize.) Though Mr. Lewis spoke to the entire audience, I think much of his presentation was directed toward the boys. He wanted to inspire them and everyone in the Recital Hall – including me – were eating every bit of it up. He emphasized the necessity of not only practicing but falling in love with practice. After he gave his presentation and played a little, he said “Well… I’ve played enough. Who’s going to play for me?” The obvious answer was the boys.
Instead, my name got called. I knew the second I heard it exactly who did it. When I visit Nashville, I frequently practice at the Steinway Piano Gallery and know the staff pretty well. When DC called my name again, I looked away, pretending that I was another member of the audience looking around for this “Kareem” person. Unfortunately, no one else was fooled and everyone – including Ramsey Lewis himself – was looking directly at me.
I was scared out of my mind. Here I was having been volunteered by my friend and all I could think of is “He just gave a speech on practice. I didn’t practice today. Yesterday, I was in the car all day driving. I really haven’t practiced as much as I should have lately. Oh yeah… and one of my heroes is going to hear me. I got up and was still pretty much shaking. BH got another piano bench and plopped it down next to the one Mr. Lewis was using and the man himself asks me “So… What are we playing?”
I stumbled crazily inside of my head trying to think of what to play when I blurted out “Stella by Starlight.” He started at the bottom doing chords/bass and I hit the top, playing the melody out and doing some improv. Sometime after the improv started, he told me to take the entire piano. I won’t lie… I’m weak at improv. I’m really weak on solo jazz piano. I hit that lower end of the piano and I don’t remember what I did, but I think I started doing a little interplay between the LH “bass” and the right hand. Thankfully, the man himself came back and started tearing up the top end of the piano and we somehow found a way to end it.
FREAKING AWESOME!!!! Yes. That’s how it feels to play a duet with a legend. Even though the duet was over, I was still scared out of my mind and practically running off the stage. I managed to fumble out “Thank you for the lesson” and went back to my seat. By then, MJ and Miles were ready to get up there and show Mr. Lewis what they had. He was all too glad to coach him. (You did awesome, boys!)
My friend BH managed to catch the last part of our duet on video. I hope you enjoy it! I’ve got a couple more days in Nashville before I head back to Ohio. For now…
I really need to practice. All the best!