Jazz piano legend Ramsey Lewis has a new album in stores, Ramsey: Take Another Look, and I spoke with him about being sampled for TheUrbandaily.com. His songs have been sampled by everyone from Leaders of The New School and The Fugees to Mariah Carey and Musiq Soulchild. While he admits that he doesn’t listen to much hip-hop he sees the merit in sampling:
TUD: I understand that you don’t really listen to the songs that sample your work. What are your general thoughts on having your work sampled or reused?
RL: I think it’s a high compliment for someone to listen to my music and feel like they would like to hear some of that in their own work. I appreciate it. However, as rap and hip-hop came along, I didn’t follow it. The reason that I didn’t follow it is because I didn’t think it would become as popular as it is today. I feel like hip-hop is an example of a positive coming out of a negative.
The negative was when the government–as they are doing today–started cutting budgets in education. When they started cutting budgets in education, the music and art programs went first. When I was in high school, I was taking private lessons and most weren’t. However, everybody was introduced to the basics of music. We had a symphony orchestra, marching band, jazz band. This was in the inner city. I’m talking about the inner city of Chicago. Back then, inner city Chicago was about 80% white.
As the 60s rolled in, whites were heading to the suburbs and minorities were filling the inner cities. The cutting of education budgets in the inner city schools was the first thing the government did. As more of the arts were cut in school, kids decided they needed to do their own thing and express themselves in their own way. Kids expressed themselves with what they were born with–rhythm and the use of words. Some probably thought, “We don’t have lyrics. So, we’re going to talk about life and what’s going on in our neighborhood.”
I found it unique and applauded the young people for finding a way to express themselves. On the other hand, I ask myself, “What if some of these kids had been exposed to harmony and melody? Would there be another Aretha Franklin? Would there be another Duke Ellington? What would come from these young people had they been exposed to the music education I was exposed to?”