Ramsey Lewis has won three Grammys, five gold records and has numerous significant honors to his credit. But the 71-year-old jazz composer and performer, sometimes referred to as a "legend," doesn't have much time to dwell on the past.

"I sort of live from day to day in the present moment and enjoy what I'm doing in that moment," Lewis said. "You've got to remember things. The further they get in the past, they kind of fade a bit, and I don't spend a lot of time in the past. I always find something just thrilling about this day, this time."

Speaking from his home in Chicago, Lewis sounded busy. With a phone ringing in the background, he said that he's been back from South Africa for about a week now, but for the past six weeks he's been so busy that e-mail and other messages have been piling up.

Nevertheless, he sounded genuinely enthusiastic about all of his current projects.

For one, he said he's writing some new music for the Joffrey Ballet. "There's a famous choreographer, Donald Byrd, and the three of us are collaborating on a major work to be premiered in Chicago in June of next year.

"I'm writing the music for it. The trio will be onstage with the ballet dancers, spread out throughout the stage; we won't be grouped. We'll be using special monitors onstage, and it will be my music, my trio and the Joffrey Ballet choreographed by Donald Byrd."

He said he's also writing music for a solo album, "the first solo album I've done in, I don't know how many albums." It will be released on the Narada label, but there's no date set yet. Last year, he had three Narada releases: "With One Voice," a gospel CD with the Choir of James Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Ramsey's sister is co-pastor; "Urban Knights VI" and "The Best of Urban Knights."

This year, he was also involved in a Public Television project, "Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis," a series with 13 weekly episodes that ran last April and May. "That's been one of the most wonderful things that has happened," said Lewis. "There's been no jazz on national television for well over 40 years.

"And we think that jazz is such an important aspect of the United States, that if we give people a chance to check it out and see it, they'll begin to love it all over again."

Lewis said he's already planning to go back into the studio to do a second year.

Sandwiched between all of his studio projects, Lewis maintains a busy performing schedule, which this year includes such venues as the Kennedy Center, the Ravinia Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Jazz in Salt Lake City series.

"I've found, since I've been in the business for so long," Lewis said, "that I have fans that have been with me for all of those years. I have to play some of the things from yesteryear, but I'm also fortunate enough that I've been picking up new fans along the way, and they want to hear some of the newer stuff.

"So I will be playing something new, something blue, something borrowed. And I'll definitely be playing some stuff that's not on our records and that we play in person."

Lewis was also quick to point out that the other two members of his trio — bassist Larry Gray and drummer Leon Joyce — are very much his equals. "People think of a trio where there's one featured instrument, and there's two backup guys. Well, I don't have two backup guys. We have a three-way conversation going on at all times. The difference is who's taking the solo in that moment, but even then, it's a three-way conversation."

When Lewis comes to Salt Lake City, it may inspire some nostalgia. In 2002, Lewis had the honor of carrying the Olympic torch for the Ravinia segment of its journey. "I thought I had all the thrills I deserved in one lifetime. I remember the first time I played Carnegie Hall, I remember the first time I won a Grammy, I remember the first time one of my albums went gold, I remember a lot of wonderful things that have happened in my life, and I thought, well, what else could there be? Carrying that torch was a new experience.

"It starts with the orientation before you even touch the torch, the history of it, and how important it is, and how you're supposed to hold it, how you're supposed to hand it off, you don't do this, you don't do that, but you should do this. When they finally handed it to me, it was a thrill, especially when I got to the end of my leg of it, and at the end of mine, I got to light the cauldron.

"It was just a wonderful thing. Everybody should have the opportunity sometime in their life to do that."

If you go

What: Ramsey Lewis Trio

Where: Salt Lake City Centre Sheraton, 150 W. 500 South

When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $25

Phone: 278-0411


E-mail: rcline@desnews.com