You have to be made of strong stuff to survive in the world of jazz, and pianist Ramsey Lewis has survived in it quite well indeed. He turned 81 last year, and he’s swinging into 2017 with another tour that brings him to the Gem Theater on Saturday.
Lewis first became known in 1950s Chicago for leading a hard-grooving trio, but it was just one among many on that town’s fertile jazz ground. Gradually, the stronger stuff in Lewis emerged.
Come the ’60s, his trio made crossover hit records such as “The In Crowd” and “Wade in the Water.” Come the ’70s, Lewis plugged in the keyboards and made another big hit with “Sun Goddess.” And since then, he’s kept playing in a variety of contexts, putting his own spin on everything from funk to Chopin, as only a true groove master can.
He seems to be a Kansas City favorite — his touring schedule has brought him here at least five times in the last 16 years.
▪ The Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., has a Monday, Jan. 9, jam led by bassist Seth Lee at 7 p.m. Guitarist Matt Hopper’s group performs at 7 p.m. Thursday, and keyboardist Rich Hill and reed man Charles Perkins bring their group at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
▪ The Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., has drummer Danny Rojas, organist Everette DeVan, singer Eboni Fondren and guitarist Matt Hopper at 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 8, followed by tenor saxophonist Steven Lambert’s quintet at 10:30 p.m.; singer Molly Hammer at noon Monday, followed by Hopper’s trio 6 p.m. and keyboardist Max Groove’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; organist Chris Hazelton’s trio at 7 p.m. Tuesday, followed by reed man Charles Perkins, bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Todd Strait at 11:30 p.m.; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 6 p.m. Wednesday, followed by saxophonist Ernest Melton’s quartet at 10:30 p.m.; Guitar Elation at 6 p.m. Thursday, followed by pianist Joe Cartwright’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; Fondren and Cartwright at 2 p.m. Friday, followed by pianist Tim Whitmer’s quartet at 5:30 p.m., Hammer’s quartet downstairs at 8:30 p.m. and Lambert’s quartet upstairs at 10 p.m.; and OJT again from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, with drummer Natalie Bates’ quartet downstairs at 9 p.m. and Melton’s quartet upstairs at 10:30 p.m.
▪ The Kansas City Jazz Vespers series at the First Baptist Church of Kansas City continues with singer Paula Saunders and her band from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 8. The church is at Wornall and Red Bridge roads.
Joe Klopus, 816-234-4751