Ramsey Lewis Heads Up Star-Studded Folly Jazz Lineup

Ramsey Lewis and Urban Knights will perform at the Folly Theater Sept. 27. (Folly Theater)

Jazz is an oft misunderstood art form. Far too many folks are wary of it, uncertain about how to process a music whose very nature involves going to unpredictable places. Some even wonder if they need to read a book about jazz before attending a concert.

Such worries are not only unfortunate, but also irrelevant to enjoying the music. All that’s required is to simply relax and let jazz happen to you. And one of the best settings for doing that is the Folly Jazz Series, which returns this fall for its 36th edition.

The lineup includes artists from legendary keyboardist Ramsey Lewis, who’s been making improvisational magic since the 1950s, to intrepid saxophonist Joshua Redman, whose 1994 quartet album “MoodSwing” is a modern classic. Jazz neophytes might find the music of the Yellowjackets, a combo featuring saxophonist Bob Mintzer and pianist Russell Ferrante, particularly appealing.

“There are many different genres of jazz music, and we try to book a little bit of everything,” said Gale Tallis, executive director of the Folly Theater.

“I do a lot of research and write down the names of artists that I think would be of interest — and that people would enjoy seeing and hearing,” Tallis said. She was particularly keen on booking Lewis, who turned 83 in May.

“He has talked recently about the fact that he’s retiring,” she said. “So we felt this was probably the last opportunity for people to see this icon at the Folly Theater. And he’s just somebody that we felt would be a great way to start off the series.”

Following is the full schedule and what you need to know about the performers:

Sept. 27: Ramsey Lewis and Urban Knights. Keyboardist Lewis, whose crossover hits include “The In Crowd” and “Sun Goddess,” brings decades of jazz experience to the stage.

Oct. 12: Larry Carlton Quintet. Early in his career, guitarist Carlton lent his spirited approach to the Crusaders, but he has gone on to become an essential jazz artist in his own right.

Jan. 18: The Yellowjackets. Don’t confuse this popular quartet with a smooth-jazz group. The ’Jackets embark on improvisational adventures that are as entertaining as they are accessible.

Feb. 15: Mystery Spotlight Artist. The identity of this act was under wraps at press time for contractual reasons. But it’s a good bet that you’ll want to check it out.

March 9: Kurt Elling Quintet. Jazz singer Elling spent years on the Chicago scene before relocating to New York and raising his profile. His approach to the vocal-jazz tradition is state-of-the-art.
April 11: Joshua Redman Quartet. Redman, one of the most imaginative and open-minded saxophonists to emerge in the 1990s, can always be counted on to deliver memorable and transcendent jazz.

April 27: Arturo Sandoval. A trumpeter and onetime protégé of the great Dizzy Gillespie, Sandoval has left his mark on jazz that reflects his Latin roots — and has become a must-hear performer.

Performances are at 8 p.m. at the Folly Theater, 300 West 12th St. Subscriptions to the Folly Jazz Series range from $64 to $350. Individual tickets are $20 to $55. For more information and tickets, follytheater.org.

Calvin Wilson

Calvin Wilson is an arts writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He is also host and creator of the jazz program, “Somethin’ Else,” on 107.3 FM and 96.3 HD2 in St. Louis.

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