A short history of … “The ‘In’ Crowd” (Billy Page, 1964)

The cutoff point for jazz standard would appear to be the 1970’s. Very few jazz tunes written since then have, in fact, emerged as widely-played jazz standards. On the other hand, jazz also has a rich history of reinterpretations of pop and rock songs that, as a result, have gained jazz standard status. Such is the case of songs like The Beatles’ “Yesterday” and Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” among many others.

One of the most well-known examples of this type of ‘musical appropriation’ is the cover of Dobie Gray’s “The ‘In’ Crowd” by the Ramsey Lewis Trio. The song, originally written by Billy Page in 1964 and recorded by Gray on his album Dobie Gray Sings for ‘In’ Crowders that ‘Go Go.’ It was also released as a single, which peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 on February 20, 1965.

That same year, the Ramsey Lewis Trio – featuring pianist Lewis, bassist Eldee Young, and drummer Isaac Holt – recorded a live album at the Bohemian Caverns, a Washington, D.C. night club. They opened their set with a cover of “The ‘In’ Crowd,” which was released as a single and became an overnight success. In fact, it was the first jazz song to meet commercial success in a pop market that had been dominated by rock and roll for decades; it sold over a million copies and won a Grammy Award for best small-group instrumental recording of the year. Time Magazine also promptly labeled Lewis “the hottest jazz artist going.” “That first hit record will stay with me until the day I die,” remembered Lewis. “In a period of two months, we went from earning fifteen hundred dollars a week to three thousand dollars a night.”

The In Crowd was included in The Penguin Jazz Guide: The History of the Music in 1000 Best Albums. Its entry reads: “If its status with jazz fans is less secure than, say, Ahmad Jamal’s legendary Pershing Lounge recordings from the previous decade, then the reason is probably contextual rather than intrinsic to the music. Lewis’ hit came at a time when pop – and particularly the invasion of America by British bands – was at its peak, and Lewis’s music reflected that.”

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