Ramsey Lewis and Dave Brubeck are among the most accomplished jazz pianists alive - greats who have been honored again and again, including receiving the title of Jazz Masters by the National Endowment for the Arts.
So it's a rare treat for them to team up in concert, but that's what will happen when the musicians join for "Two Legends, One Stage," featuring the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the Ramsey Lewis Trio, at 7:30 p.m. April 8 at the Eisenhower Auditorium on the Penn State University Park campus.
The Center for the Performing Arts performance marks the third appearance by Lewis, who last played Penn State in 2006. But, according to Laura Sullivan, marketing and commmunications director for the CPA, Brubeck hasn't performed at Penn State since 1957. That concert was the third event ever produced by the CPA, which was then known as The Artists Series.
Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis will perform with Dave Brubeck at 7:30 p.m. April 8 at Eisenhower Auditorium, University Park.
The concert is a continuation of a long friendship, Lewis recently said in a phone interview from his home in Chicago.
"Well, Dave and I have a mutual admiration society going on," he said. "We've known about each other's music for many, many years and crossed paths several times.
"But several years ago, we ended up on the same bill at the Hollywood Bowl, and it went very well."
If you go
Who: "Two Legends, One Stage," featuring the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the Ramsey Lewis Trio
When: 7:30 p.m. April 8
Where: Eisenhower Auditorium, Penn State University Park campus
Tickets: $50 for adults, $25 for University Park students and $43 for those age 18 and younger
Since then, Lewis said, the pair have joined forces at least a few times a year. They don't perform together, but will lead their respective groups.
"Dave has seniority and he gets to do what he wants, and he chooses to go on first. He goes on first and burns the stage up, and then he hands it to me," Lewis said with a deep laugh.
Lewis, 75, began playing piano at age 4 and joined his first jazz band at 15. Within a few years, he formed The Ramsey Lewis Trio and released his first album - on the Argo imprint of the legendary Chess Records - in 1956, at age 21.
Since that debut record, the Chicago native has produced more than 80 albums, taking home three Grammy Awards for instrumental versions of the songs "The In Crowd" (1965), "Hold It Right There" (1966) and "Hang On Sloopy" (1973).
But Lewis says his prolific career is just a testament to the era in which he began.
"It sounds difficult, but what you don't know don't hurt you," he said. "Back in the day, back in the '50s or '60s, it was normal to put out two albums a year.
"It was the oncoming of the Beatles and the rise of pop music and rock 'n' roll [when] the record companies noticed that it took a while to market and sell an album."
In 2007, he received a pair of career achievement awards, with the NEA's Jazz Master honor and being named a Legendary Landmark of Illinois, an award that honors "living treasures" of the state.
But Lewis' long career doesn't mean he's stuck in the past. On the contrary, he has begun to compose full orchestral pieces in recent years. His first composition was a ballet produced in concert with Chicago's famed Joffrey Ballet.
"It was a huge success," he said. "It was the first time I had performed [the music], and my son came backstage and said, 'Dad, this is the first time you didn't play any of your hit records, and they still loved the music.' So a light went on."
Lewis has continued composing but said, "I think I'll always be a piano player. I'll never stop that. I'll no doubt do both."
As his own career progresses, the state of jazz as an art form is constantly on Lewis' mind.
"On one hand, it doesn't look good, but on the other hand, it's never been better," he said. "The 'doesn't look good' part is that people who are 50, 60 and older, those people who used to run down to the record shop ... that audience, we're kind of losing them.
"The brighter side is there are more schools with jazz programs than ever before. Those youngsters, from 14, 15 to the middle 20s, they're all excited about the music."
The problem, according to Lewis, is keeping those kids invested in jazz, without the benefit of those things that got past generations interested in the form - record shops, jazz radio stations and jazz clubs in most cities.
To that end, Lewis has proposed a program to coffee shops like Starbucks, where a space would be set up for jazz performances; the thinking being that young people already congregate at coffee shops and would be a ready audience.
So far, no one has bought into his plan.
But Lewis holds out hope that the proliferation of high school and college jazz programs will bring jazz music to the next generation.
"I can't say that every young person who gets into jazz will ultimately end up at Carnegie Hall," he said. "But I think that, from this group of thousands and thousands of kids, there could be the next Dave Brubeck, the next Sarah Vaughn.
"I would venture to say that there are some George Gershwins, some Burt Bacharachs, in these programs right now."
Some of those undiscovered masters may even be at Penn State, where the Brubeck/ Lewis concert received a good response.
"There is a lot of excitement, even from the students," Sullivan said. "The chance to see two jazz legends at once is exciting. [And] I think having it on a Friday is really going to be to our advantage.
"The big jazz names bring out not just jazz lovers but people who love music in general."
The CPA is offering members of its "Jazz Train" fundraising level access to a free reception after the show. Sullivan said the artists won't necessarily be at the reception, but they are always invited.
Those wishing to join the "Jazz Train" level need to donate $200 or more to the CPA. Membership lasts for a year and includes similar receptions throughout the CPA seasons. Those wishing to join can sign up at www.cpa.psu.edu.
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.