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Touring jazz Legends display timeless skills

Kevin T. Cox | 12/30/2008, 2:55 p.m.
Pianist/Composer Ramsey Lewis charms the crowd with his music during the Legends of Jazz Tour at Worcester’s Hanover Theater for the Performing Arts last Saturday. He was joined on stage by bassist Larry Gray and drummer Leon Joyce. The trio left the audience elated upon concluding the concert with Lewis’ 1965 hit “The In Crowd.” Kevin T. Cox

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Pianist/Composer Ramsey Lewis charms the crowd with his music during the Legends of Jazz Tour at Worcester’s Hanover Theater for the Performing Arts last Saturday. He was joined on stage by bassist Larry Gray and drummer Leon Joyce. The trio left the audience elated upon concluding the concert with Lewis’ 1965 hit “The In Crowd.”

Jazz fans flocked to Worcester’s Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts last Saturday night to experience the eclectic blend of jazz sounds on display at the Legends of Jazz Tour. Pianist/composer Ramsey Lewis, Latin jazz artist Paquito D’Rivera, and contemporary jazz supergroup Fourplay kept the crowd enrapt with their virtuosity and smooth rhythms.

The show was the second in a 10-city tour sponsored by AARP, the world’s largest advocacy organization for the 50-plus community, in honor of the organization’s 50th anniversary.

Cuban-born Paquito D’Rivera opened the show, accompanied by a sensational young Boston-based pianist named Alex Brown. D’Rivera dazzled the crowd with his world-renowned brand of Latin jazz and classical style on clarinet and saxophone, highlighting his set with a riveting rendition of “I Remember Dizzy,” his tribute to his mentor, the late Dizzy Gillespie.

Lewis took the stage next, joined by bassist Larry Gray and drummer Leon Joyce. He opened his set with a swinging arrangement of the spiritual “Wade in the Water,” setting the stage for a return to that vibe later in his set with “Give Me That Old Time Religion.”

While Lewis’ ivory-tickling talents were on display throughout, his sidemen also got a chance to show their chops. On two newer compositions, “Exhilaration” and “The One,” bassist Gray switched from the standard pizzicato approach of plucking the strings of his instrument with his fingers to playing with a bow, creating a cello-like effect that was impressive, if a bit overdone. Later in the set, drummer Joyce got his chance to shine with an amazing percussion solo that brought the crowd to its feet. After an entertaining set that was, if anything, too short, the trio returned to the stage for an encore, playing Lewis’ 1965 hit “The In Crowd,” thrilling the crowd even as it left them wanting more.

With all due respect to Fourplay, the super-talented quartet of pianist Bob James, bassist Nathan East, guitarist Larry Carlton, and drummer Harvey Mason, a “Legends of Jazz” tour should have their group opening for D’Rivera and Lewis, not closing the show. Nevertheless, faced with the unenviable task of following excellent sets by two true titans, the gifted professionals proceeded to charm and impress the crowd with their trademark mix of jazz, pop, and RandB. But it was the sincere emotion of their playing, especially on “Blues Force” and “Amazing Grace,” rather than the slickness of their sound that finally won over the Worcester audience.