The audience at the University Park Hotel seemed to appreciate jazz-pianist Ramsey Lewis much more than he appreciated them Monday night.
The show started more than a half-hour late. Lewis never apologized for this, rarely spoke to the packed ballroom crowd between numbers and answered enthusiastic calls for an encore by saying, "We played everything we know."But few of the people, who paid at least $15 a ticket, seemed to mind. Most were happy just to have an opportunity to listen to Lewis, bass player Bill Dickens and guitarist Henry Johnson.
Dickens was especially refreshing, playing a six-string bass guitar. He also treated the crowd to humorous antics behind Lewis' back, led the crowd in rhythmic handclapping and carried on playful, musical banter with Lewis. Indeed, he seemed to be the only one on stage enjoying himself.
The show dragged in the middle, with Johnson and Dickens performing long, slow improvisations. But the crowd responded warmly to anything that sounded like rhythm and blues, handclapping along and giving numerous standing ovations.
Lewis, who has been playing professionally since 1950, glided his fingers gracefully across the keys as if he and the piano were one, playing many old favorites and some unfamiliar tunes in his typical, eclectic style. But then, Lewis practically is one with the piano, having played it since the age of 4 and having recorded more than 50 albums over three decades.
The trio blended magically, producing sounds that only can be manufactured through years of experience together.
In short, all was well Monday night except for Lewis' rapport with the crowd. Audiences like to be complimented, or at least to be spoken to occasionally. Lewis introduced his first number, "Sun Goddess," and later introduced "With a gentle touch," noting he recently performed the number with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. But that was the extent of his involvement with the fans who had waited so patiently for him.
The show was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., but the crowd had to wait anxiously until 7:34 p.m. for the trio to arrive. No explanation was offered, and promoter James Brown did an admirable job quieting the crowd with corny jokes.
"This is the Led Zepplin concert," he said to the delight of many. Most in the crowd were well dressed and either in or approaching middle age. "I can sing," he also offered.
Lewis' refusal to play an encore was most distressing, considering how enthusiastic the audience was. However, he did offer a ray of hope for the jazz-starved crowd.
"We want to make this an annual affair," he said.