ROGELIO RAMIREZ a.k.a “ROGER,” and “RAM” was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on May 10, 1913. At seven he traveled from Puerto Rico to the US aboard the steamship SS Ponce with Maria Abraham and Luis Olmo. They arrived on Ellis Island on November 11, 1920. The family lived in Manhattan’s San Juan Hill, one of the larges black and Caribbean communities in New York before WW l (where Lincoln Center stands today).
How Ramirez came to be known as “Roger” is not known. However, the US Copyright Office and the Social Security Administration identify him as “Roger Ramirez.”
Ramirez was an accomplished pianist comfortable in swing, bop, and straight-ahead jazz. His primary influences were Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, and Fats Waller. He is arguably most remembered as the co-composer of the the jazz standard “Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be),” popularized by Billie Holliday, and interpreted by Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, among others.
During the Harlem Renaissance, Ramirez worked with the Louisiana Stompers (1930) and Monette Moore (1933). A high point of Ramirez’s career occurred in 1934 when he substituted for Duke Ellington’s small group, led by Rex Stewart, and recorded the songs, “Stingaree” and “Baby Aint’cha Satisfied.” In 1935, Ramirez joined Willie Bryant and the Spirits of Rhythm and toured Europe with Bobby Martin. In 1939, he backed the legendary Ella Fitzgerald when she was with Chick Webb’s Orchestra. In 1942, Ramirez work with Frank Newton, Charlie Barnett, and the John Kirby Sextet.
In the 1950s, Ramirez formed a trio and added the organ to his repertoire. The 1960s to the mid-1970s he recorded six albums including “Organ Jazz Live in Harlem,” “The Most Crazy … Recorded Live at Frank’s Steakhouse, Long Island USA,” “Fine and Mellow,” “Easy to Love,” “Ray Ramirez at the Hammond Organ with the Ray Fernandez Trio” Latin Jazz Series Volume 1., and “Ray Fernandez and his Trio featuring Ram Ramirez” Latin Jazz Series, Volume 2. Rock and Bossa Nova Sessions.”
On October 8, 1977, Ramirez performed a concert at the Casablanca White House (now, a museum)) where Ponce de Leon once resided.
At 67, Ramirez was invited to participate in a recital at Carnegie Hall as part of the Kool Jazz Fest piano series and received glowing review. According to John Wilson of the New York Times, “Mr. Ramirez revealed himself as a superbly swinging pianist who moves readily between suggestions of Fats Waller’s stride and the pastel melodies of Duke Ellington. Moreover, he is a joyous pianist who groans and grunts a vocal accompaniment when his solos get rolling, much as Erroll Garner did. He is apt to burst into happy laughter at the surprise of something he plays. His program was generously laced with Ellington tunes, mostly the Duke’s lesser-known mood pieces, as well as jumping, foot patting performances that built, under his strong, two-handed attack, into driving exemplifications of swing.” At the time of the performance, Ramirez was a member of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band. He was active up until his death in 1994, at 80.
According to Tom Lord’s Jazz Discography, Ramirez participated in seventy recording sessions. Of those, two stand out as excellent examples of his work as a leader, pianist, composer, and arranger: I’ll Remember April (RCA Victor), and Fine and Mellow (RCA Victor).
Ramirez was recognized by his peers and listeners in the know but fame eluded him. Nonetheless, his body of work speaks volumes. Thankfully, Ramirez’s music is available on a variety of digital platforms (see YouTube) and in CD format and vinyl.
Roger “Ram” Ramirez is one of many Boricua Pioneers – male and female – whose lives and accomplishments deserve wider recognition.