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Remembering jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis who has died at age 87

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Ramsey Lewis has died. A statement on his Facebook page says he spent his last hours peacefully at home in Chicago.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

He was a pianist, and you could say that his legacy is extending the life of jazz. In 1965, jazz music seemed to be on the way out of fashion, when Lewis and his trio recorded the song "The In Crowd."

(SOUNDBITE OF THE RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO'S "THE IN CROWD")

INSKEEP: They recorded in front of a live audience at Bohemian Caverns. That's a club in Washington, D.C., on U Street, once known as the Black Broadway. The tune made an unexpected entry onto the pop charts.

MARTINEZ: In a 2015 interview with NPR, Ramsey Lewis said the trio happened on their biggest hit by chance. They were in a D.C. diner trying to think of more songs to play when a server came by.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RAMSEY LEWIS: Nettie Gray came over to the table to serve us our coffee, and what are you guys doing? So we told her, and she says, well, have you have you heard this song by Dobie Gray? She had a jukebox - jukeboxes in coffee shops. People don't know about that anymore. But she went over to the jukebox and played - you guys might like this. Listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE IN CROWD")

DOBIE GRAY: (Singing) I'm in with the in crowd. I go where the in crowd goes.

LEWIS: I said, that's it.

INSKEEP: And after that success, Lewis scored another hit with the spiritual "Wade In The Water."

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMSEY LEWIS' "WADE IN THE WATER")

INSKEEP: For that recording, his group included Maurice White, later known as the founder of Earth, Wind & Fire.

MARTINEZ: Those were some of the peaks of Lewis's 87 years. He grew up in Chicago in a public housing project. He began learning piano at age 4 and played the organ at church on Sundays. In 1992, he returned to meet students at his boyhood elementary school.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LEWIS: I told them that I don't believe in luck. I told them that when constant preparedness meets opportunity, then proper occasions befitting your desires and wills will develop, that one must first dream and one must first have hope and come up with ideas of what he or she wants to be.

INSKEEP: What Lewis became was a jazz master, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, and his fans would agree.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMSEY LEWIS' "WADE IN THE WATER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.