Rogelio Ramirez (also known as “Roger” or “Ram”) was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on May 10, 1913. He and his parents – Mariana Abraham and Luis Olmo – arrived in New York on the steamship SS Ponce and lived in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan (where Lincoln Center stands today), a neighborhood that produced several outstanding jazz artists including Thelonious Monk and Benny Carter among others.
Ramirez was a prodigy. He started on the piano when he was eight and turned professional by the age of 13. His influences include Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, and Fats Waller. While many considered Ramirez to be a blues-oriented pianist and the majority of his recordings were as a sideman, he was a complete player and an organist, comfortable in swing, bop, and jazz.
Early in his career, Ramirez worked with the Louisiana Stompers, Monette Moore (1933), Rex Stewart, the Spirits of Rhythm (1934) and Willie Bryant(1935). He visited Europe with Bobby Martin’s group (1937-39) and then worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Frankie Newton and Charlie Barnet (1942). After a second stint with Newton, Ramirez played with the John Kirby Sextet (1944).
In 1953 Ramirez began doubling on the organ. Also, he led the Roger Ram Trio during the 1970s. During the 1980s he was semi-active.
One of the highlights of his career came in 1934 when at the age of twenty-one he substituted for one of Duke Ellington’s small groups, led by Rex Stewart and recorded the tunes Stingaree and Baby Ain’tcha Satisfied. Also, in June 1981, at sixty-seven he was invited to perform as a soloist at Carnegie Hall and received exceptional reviews.
According to the Lord Jazz Discography (http://www.lordisco.com), Ramirez participated in approximately seventy recordings as a leader and sideman. Many of his recordings are available on www.amazon.com, www.discogs.com. Also, www.youtube.com.
Ramirez died in 1994 at 80. He is mostly remembered as an exceptional performer and the co-composer of the popular jazz standard, “Lover Man” (Oh, Where Can You Be, popularized by Billie Holliday).
SUGGESTED RECORDINGS (AS A LEADER)
- Organ Jazz Live in Harlem (Black and Blues, 1960)
- The Most Crazy (Columbia, 1961)
- Fine and Mellow (RCA, 1966)
- Rampant Ram (Master Jazz Recordings, 1973)
- Lover Man (RCA, date unknown)
- Serrano, Basilio – Puerto Rican Pioneers in Jazz (1900-1939) – Bomba Beats to Latin Jazz (iUniverse, 2015)
- Yanow, Scott – Roger “Ram” Ramirez Biography (www.allmusic.com)