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Jamal, Ahmad

Ahmad Jamal

Pianist, composer

Regarded as an outstanding conceptualist with a distinctive style, pianist and composer Ahmad Jamal has made a significant impact on the jazz idiom. His lean style, complex use of space, and simple embellishments have served as a model for many other artists, most notably Miles Davis. "I live until he makes another record," the legendary trumpeter once said of Jamal, as quoted by Down Beat's Owen Cordle. But despite his impact on jazz, Jamal feels uncomfortable with the label "jazz musician." Instead, he prefers to call himself an "American classical" musician. "I started the phrase ‘American classical music,’" he told American Visions contributor Eugene Holley. "The term ‘jazz’ is certainly not sufficient; it was used to try and downgrade the music, but the music was so viable and it was so potent, nothing could keep it down."

Over the course of his professional career, Jamal, who converted to Islam in 1950, led several trios and made some 50 recordings, including the 1958 landmark album Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing. His ensemble peaked in popularity during the 1950s and 1960s, when he performed mostly jazz standards. Since the 1980s Jamal has focused his attention on his own compositions. While less accepted later in his career by the mainstream, Jamal has continued to draw criti- cal accolades. In recognition of his achievements, he received a $20,000 Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994. That same year, Yale University named Jamal a Duke Ellington Fellow. In 1996, for his album The Essence, Part 1, Jamal won the prestigious Django d'Or award in France. His follow-up projects The Essence, Part 2 and The Essence, Part 3, released in 1997 and 1998, respectively, further illustrated Jamal's ever-evolving musicianship.

Jamal was born Frederick Russell Jones on July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city that also produced such jazz greats as Kenny Clarke, Mary Lou Williams, Erroll Garner, and Art Blakey. A child prodigy, Jamal immersed himself in European classical music early in life. At the age of three he started playing the piano, and when he was seven, Jamal's mother arranged for her son to take formal lessons. A domestic, she walked to work in order to save enough money to pay for Jamal's training. By the age of eleven, the pianist was already skilled enough to begin playing professionally at a local club. "I can't remember the place," he said in an interview with Boston Globe staff writer Marian Christy. "I only remember that people threw loads of money on the bandstand. Maybe it was only a few dollars total. But it sure seemed like a lot of money then."

In high school, Jamal further pursued classical studies with noted concert singer Mary Caldwell and pianist James Miller, completing with his instructors the equivalent of college graduate classes. To this day, Jamal's classical background remains influential. "There are very few people playing European classical music that also know Art Tatum and Duke Ellington," Jamal told Holley. "However, it's not the same position with the so-called jazz musician, who has to be twice as good as the so-called classical musician and know both worlds in order to get work."

During his teen years Jamal also explored his growing interest in jazz and was greatly inspired by Art Tatum, Teddy Williams, and, especially, a local bebop pianist named Erroll Garner. "Erroll was my major inspiration," he said in an interview with Greg Fitzgerald for National Public Radio's Jazz Profiles. In fact, critics would later compare Jamal's technique to that of Garner, though many have cited Jamal as a more intricate player. Because he used the full range of the keyboard in a more simple manner, Jamal was later able to present his trio as a scaled down orchestra of sorts.

At age 14, Jamal joined the musicians' union. Upon graduating from Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh in 1948, he joined the George Hudson Orchestra in Atlantic City and embarked on a national tour. Winning significant critical acclaim for his solos, Jamal nonetheless learned a certain truth about playing before an audience. As he commented to Christy, "Performing is like being the matador in the bullring. You have to be constantly concerned about what you're doing or you get gored."

In 1949 Jamal started playing with violinist Joe Kennedy, Jr., and his group the Four Strings. Kennedy, who grew up with Jamal, had always regarded the pianist as immensely talented. "When he was 13 or 14, his harmonic sense even way back then was beyond his years," Kennedy recalled to Holley. "One night we heard Art Tatum, and Ahmad played a tune for him, and Tatum said that that boy is a coming great." Led by Jamal's tight arrangements and minimalist approach, the quartet brought the "chamber jazz" sound into being. Jamal, by taking the popular standards of the day and adding to them Latin and blues rhythms and orchestral voicings, captured the attention of many within the jazz community.

For the Record …

Born Frederick Russell Jones on July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh, PA. Education: Studied music with concert singer Mary Caldwell and pianist James Miller.

Began playing piano at age three and taking classical music lessons at age seven; toured with the George Hudson Orchestra, 1948; joined Joe Kennedy, Jr.'s the Four Strings, 1949; worked as accompanist for the Caldwells, formed his first trio, the Three Strings, 1950; released Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing, 1958; Digital Works, 1981; The Essence: Part 1, 1996; Olympia 2000, 2001; In Search of Momentum, 2003; appeared at Carnegie Hall, June 2003; released After Fajr, 2005; planned European tour, 2008.

Awards: National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Master of Jazz Award, 1994; Yale University, Duke Ellington Fellow, 1994; Django d'Or award (France), for The Essence, Part 1, 1996; inducted into Order of the Arts and Letters by French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, 2007.

Addresses: Ellora Management—P.O Box 755, 11 Brook St., Lakeville, CT 06039. Web site—Ahmad Jamal Official Web site: http://www.ahmadjamal.net/.

Miles Davis, in particular, greatly admired Jamal's style. "Miles really listened and what he heard from Ahmad was the orchestra that Ahmad had under his fingers," bassist Jamil Nasser told Fitzgerald. "Miles was one of those sharp people who wasn't too hip to say ‘this is the way I want to go.’" Throughout his own career, Davis recorded many of the same standards that Jamal played, including "A Gal in Calico," "My Funny Valentine," and "Surrey With the Fringe on Top." And on his 1959 Miles Ahead recording with Gil Evans, Miles transcribed "New Rumba," an original composition by Jamal, note for note. In addition to borrowing from Jamal's repertoire, he insisted that his accompanying pianist, Red Garland, try to sound like Jamal.

In 1950 Jamal worked as accompanist for the Caldwells, a popular song and dance team. He also formed his first trio, the Three Strings, with guitarist Ray Crawford (from the Four Strings) and bassist Eddie Calhoun. The group won extended engagements at such venues as the Blue Note in Chicago and the Embers club in New York City. Producer John Hammond heard the Three Strings perform and signed them to Columbia's Okeh Records.

In 1956 Jamal constructed a new trio consisting of bassist Israel Crosby, who replaced Calhoun in 1955, and a drummer instead of a guitarist, and they took up residence as the house group at Chicago's Pershing Hotel. In 1958 drummer Vernell Fournier joined Jamal and Crosby, and the trio made a live recording. Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing featured his famous version of "Poinciana," and the album earned recognition as a milestone in jazz recordings. Winning praise from jazz music listeners as well as critics, Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing rose to the top of the Billboard charts, where it remained for an astounding 108 weeks.

Spurred by the success of his trio's recording, Jamal recorded and toured non-stop in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He also opened his own non-alcoholic club, the Alhambra, in Chicago, which closed in 1962. Some years later, Jamal moved to New York and formed another trio with bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Frank Gant. During the 1970s and 1980s, several other noted jazz players received their start from Jamal. Bassist Richard Davis, composer/arranger Richard Evans, and drummer Walter Perkins, among others, all "graduated" from Jamal's trio.

Following the release of Digital Works in 1981, featuring new versions of "But Not for Me" and "Poinciana," Jamal concentrated increasingly on original compositions. "I believe that we've done enough adaptation of popular songs," he said to Holley. "Now is the time for the musician to write his own repertoire rather than to keep resurrecting the things that are in somebody else's head." Although less accessible than his reworkings of popular standards, Jamal's own songs were decidedly more complex and evolved.

Jamal has continued to record and perform. In 2000 the Chess label reissued Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing as a two-CD set under the title Cross Country Tour. Now in his seventies, he still plays with the same enthusiasm and brilliancy of a young man. "I've been described as intense," he told Christy. "Maybe it's true. You can't separate the man and the music. There are always tunes floating in my head. … I'm drawn to my music more deeply than ever before. When I pass a piano anywhere, I have to touch it or play it."

Jamal issued a new album, Olympia 2000, in 2001, a recording that celebrated his 70th birthday. Joined by bassist James Cammack and drummer Idris Muhammad, the trio offered lengthy versions of classics like "How Deep Is the Ocean?" and "Autumn Leaves," along with a Jamal original, "Aftermath." Speaking of his craft in Jazzine.com, Jamal said: "I don't believe in going to a studio to make a record—that's stupid. You go to a studio when you have something to say that means something! You have nothing to say—don't go to the studio!"

Jamal released In Search of Momentum in 2003, another trio recording. "This is a beautiful offering by one of the true jazz masters of our time," wrote Thom Jurek in All Music Guide. "At 72, Jamal is even more of a pianistic enigma than he was as a young man." On June 6, 2003, he made an appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York City to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Steinway (his piano of choice). In 2005 Jamal issued After Fajr, an album divided between originals and classic jazz compositions.

In 2007 Gambit Records issued two historic recordings by Jamal, Complete Live at the Pershing Lounge 1958 and Complete Live at the Spotlight Club 1958. Jamal was also inducted into the Order of the Arts and Letters by French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres in 2007. Between albums he continued to maintain a busy touring schedule, planning a tour in France and Italy in the spring of 2008. Recalling his long career, Jamal told All About Jazz, "Music chose me. I didn't choose it. I was playing at three years old. When you are that young, you don't make choices. Choices are made for you. The instrument was in my mother's house. It was already there, so I passed by it one day and sat down. The rest is history."

Selected discography

Poinciana, Portrait/Epic, 1952.

Chamber Music of New Jazz, Argo, 1955.

Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing, Argo, 1958.

Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal, Argo, 1960.

Jamal at the Penthouse, Argo, 1962.

The Awakening, GRP/Impulse, 1970.

Digital Works, Atlantic, 1981.

Pittsburgh, Atlantic, 1989.

Live at Blues Alley, Blues Alley Music Society, 1992.

Chicago Revisited: Live at the Jazz Showcase, Telarc, 1993.

Live in Paris, '92, Birdology, 1993.

I Remember Duke, Hoagy and Strayhorn, Telarc, 1995.

The Essence, Part 1, Verve, 1996.

The Essence, Part 2, Verve, 1997.

Nature: The Essence, Part 3, Atlantic, 1998.

Cross Country Tour, Chess, 2000.

Olympia 2000, Dreyfus, 2001.

In Search of Momentum, Dreyfus, 2003.

After Fajr, Dreyfus, 2005.

Complete Live at the Spotlight Club 1958, Gambit, 2007.

Complete Live at the Pershing Lounge 1958, Gambit, 2007.

Sources

Books

Who's Who Among African Americans, 13th edition, Gale Group, 2000.

Periodicals

American Visions, October/November 1994.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 29, 1995.

Billboard, September 26, 1998.

Boston Globe, January 7, 1988; January 25, 1989; January 22, 1998; November 6, 1998.

Down Beat, April 1993; May 1993; March 1995; November 2000; December 2000.

Forbes, July 3, 2000; January 2001.

Jet, January 17, 1994; September 28, 1998.

Los Angeles Times December 6, 1987; December 17, 1992; January 14, 1994; December 1, 1994; September 11, 1998; September 14, 1998.

Unesco Courier, July 1993.

Washington Post, December 29, 2000.

Online

"Ahmad Jamal," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (February 9, 2001; February 12, 2008).

"Ahmad Jamal," Jazzine.com,http://www.jazzine.com (February 8, 2008).

Ahmad Jamal Official Web site, http://ww2.cybernex.net/˜ajamal (February 9, 2001).

"A Fireside Chat With Ahmad Jamal," All About Jazz,http://www.allaboutjazz.com (February 8, 2008).

—Laura Hightower and Ronald D. Lankford, Jr.

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Jamal, Ahmad

Ahmad Jamal

1930—

Pianist, composer

The pianist and composer Ahmad Jamal objected to being labeled a "jazz musician," a term that he believed could not adequately encompass the range and variety of his music. In a 1994 interview with Eugene Holley Jr. of American Visions, Jamal explained, "The term ‘jazz’ is certainly not sufficient; it was used to try and downgrade the music, but the music was so viable and it was so potent, nothing could keep it down." Instead, Jamal dubbed his style of playing "American classical music," a phrase that he felt captured its diverse elements, including European classical, folk, and Latin music.

However he is classified, Jamal is notable in the music world for his distinctive style, marked by tight arrangements, simple embellishments, and an innovative use of space (silence). He is also known for pioneering the small-group "chamber jazz" sound, treating his signature trio in the same way one might approach an orchestra. He exerted a profound influence on subsequent jazz musicians, particularly Miles Davis.

Became a Musical Prodigy

Ahmad Jamal was born Frederick Russell Jones on July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A child prodigy, he began playing the piano at age three. Jamal wrote on his Web site, "At three years of age, my wonderful Uncle Lawrence stopped me while I was walking past the piano in my parents' living room. He was playing the piano and challenged me to duplicate what he was doing. Although I had never touched this or any piano, I sat down and played note for note what I had heard. ‘The rest is history.’"

At age seven, Jamal's mother arranged for him to study classical music with the African-American opera singer Mary Caldwell and the pianist James Miller. His training in classical music would have a significant influence on his music, distinguishing him from other strictly jazz musicians. In particular, he was attracted to the compositions of Franz Liszt, Maurice Ravel, and Claude Debussy.

By age eleven, Jamal was playing professionally in local clubs. As a teenager, he began to explore Pittsburgh's vibrant jazz scene, and he was influenced by the work of Art Tatum and Erroll Garner. He joined the Musicians Union at age fourteen. After graduating from Pittsburgh's Westinghouse High School in 1948, by which time he was already a husband and father to one child, Jamal put off plans to attend Juilliard and instead took his first job with the George Hudson Orchestra. The following year he joined the Four Strings, a group led by the violinist Joe Kennedy Jr., a childhood friend of Jamal's who recognized the pianist's tremendous talent. In 1951 he worked as an accompanist for the song-and-dance team the Caldwells.

The musician converted to Islam in 1950, at which time he changed his name from Frederick Jones to Ahmad Jamal.

Pioneered Chamber Jazz Ensemble

Jamal would come into his own during the 1950s, earning acclaim among audiences as well as achieving financial success. When Kennedy left the Four Strings in 1951, the remaining members—Jamal, the guitarist Ray Crawford, and the bass player Eddie Calhoun—became known as the Three Strings (later renamed the Ahmad Jamal Trio). The trio debuted at the Blue Note jazz club in Chicago. Soon, they were discovered by the producer John Hammond while performing at the Embers club in New York City; Hammond immediately signed the group to Columbia Records' Okeh label (now part of Sony Records). Jamal issued his first recording, Ahmad's Blues, in 1951.

The following year Jamal made his first of many appearances at Carnegie Hall in New York City, which he said was his favorite venue. The Ahmad Jamal Trio performed on the same bill as the Duke Ellington Orchestra (celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary that evening), Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, and Stan Getz.

In 1956 Jamal switched the format of his trio to the more traditional combination of piano, bass, and drums, teaming up with the bassist Israel Crosby and the drummer Vernell Fournier. The trio played as the house band at the Pershing Hotel in Chicago. There, they recorded the live album Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing, which featured the singles "But Not for Me" and "Poinciana." The latter became an instant classic and Jamal's signature song. The album was a runaway success, topping the Billboard charts for 108 weeks and selling more than a million copies, two feats that no jazz album had ever achieved.

Throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s Jamal kept up a hectic pace of recording and touring. For many years, however, he refused to play in the racially segregated South. His financial success allowed him to open his own club, the Alhambra, in Chicago, though it closed in the midst of Jamal's divorce in 1962.

For the first three decades of his career, Jamal focused primarily on adapting and reinterpreting jazz standards. But in the 1980s, following the release of his album Digital Works (1985), he began to create original compositions that were more complex than his earlier work. Jamal told Holley, "I believe that we've done enough adaptation of popular songs…. Now is the time for the musician to write his own repertoire rather than to keep resurrecting the things that are in somebody else's mind."

Influenced the Music World

Even though Jamal influenced many subsequent musicians, in jazz and in other genres, he had perhaps the most profound effect on the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Davis recorded several songs that Jamal had covered, and he even asked his own pianist, Red Garland, to try to sound more like Jamal. Davis wrote in his autobiography (1990), "He knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, his understatement, and the way he phrased notes and chords and passages." Jamal's music has also been sampled by many contemporary rap and hip-hop artists, including Nas, Common, and Jay-Z.

At a Glance …

Born Frederick Russell Jones on July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh, PA; married in 1947 (divorced, 1962); children: Sumayah. Religion: Muslim. Education: Trained under the opera signer Mary Caldwell and the pianist James Miller.

Career: George Hudson Orchestra, pianist, 1948; Four Strings, pianist, 1949; the Caldwells, accompanist, 1951; Ahmad Jamal Trio, pianist, composer, and leader, 1951—.

Awards: American Jazz Masters Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1994; Duke Ellington Fellowship, Yale University, 1994; Django d'Or Award (France), 1996; Arts and Culture Recognition Award, 2001; American Jazz Hall of Fame, New Jersey Jazz Society, 2003; Gold Medallion, 2003; French Order of Arts and Letters, 2007.

Addresses: Agent—Ellora Management, PO Box 755, 11 Brook St., Lakeville, CT 06039. Web—http://www.ahmadjamal.net.

Jamal earned many accolades for his work. In 1994 he received the American Jazz Masters Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and was named a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University. In 1996 he received France's Django d'Or Award, the most prestigious jazz prize in Europe. In 2007 he was inducted into the French Order of Arts and Letters, which honors artists who have made significant contributions to the arts in France and around the world.

Into his seventies, Jamal continued to tour extensively and issue new recordings, including After Fajr in 2005 and It's Magic in 2008.

Selected works

Discography

Ahmad's Blues, Okeh, 1951.

Chamber Music of the New Jazz, Argo, 1955.

Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me, Chess, 1958.

Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal, Argo, 1958.

Jamal at the Penthouse, Argo, 1959.

The Awakening, Impulse, 1970.

Digital Works, Atlantic, 1985.

Pittsburgh, Atlantic, 1989.

Live at Blues Alley Blues, Alley, 1992.

Chicago Revisited: Live at Joel Segal's Jazz Showcase, 1993.

The Essence of Ahmad Jamal, Part 1, Verve, 1994.

I Remember Duke, Hoagy, and Strayhorn, Telarc, 1994.

Big Byrd: The Essence, Part 2, Verve, 1997.

Nature: The Essence, Part 3, Atlantic, 1998.

Olympia 2000, Dreyfus, 2001.

Live in Paris 1996, Dreyfus, 2003.

In Search of Momentum, Dreyfus, 2003.

After Fajr, Birdology/Dreyfus Jazz, 2005.

It's Magic, Dreyfus, 2008.

Books

(With Alex Smith) The Ahmad Jamal Collection, Leonard Corp., 1997.

Sources

Books

Crouch, Stanley, Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz, Civitas Books, 2006.

Davis, Miles, with Quincy Troupe, Miles, the Autobiography, Simon and Schuster, 1990.

Doerschuk, Robert L., 88: The Giants of Jazz Piano, Backbeat Books, 2001.

Periodicals

American Visions, October-November 1994.

New York Times, November 11, 2001.

Phoenix New Times, January 14, 1999.

Online

Ahmad Jamal,http://www.ahmadjamal.net (accessed June 12, 2008).

"Ahmad Jamal Releases ‘It's Magic’ June 10 on Birdology/Dreyfus," All about Jazz,http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/news.php?id=17982 (accessed June 12, 2008).

Fitzgerald, Greg, "Ahmad Jamal," Jazz Profiles,http://www.npr.org/programs/jazzprofiles/archive/jamal.html (accessed June 12, 2008).

Other

Ahmad Jamal Live in Baalbeck (DVD), Dreyfus, 2004.

—Deborah A. Ring

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Jamal, Ahmad

Ahmad Jamal, 1930–, American jazz pianist, b. Pittsburgh, Pa. He started playing the piano at the age of three and became interested in jazz during the bop era. He began playing professionally at 18 and shortly thereafter came to the attention of Miles Davis, who cited Jamal as an important influence. In 1951 he formed his first trio; he has continued to create a uniquely orchestral sound, defining the jazz trio for some 50 years. In 1958 he and his group recorded Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing, featuring the song "Poinciana," which became his signature tune. Jamal has been acclaimed for his cool post-bop style, melodic and rhythmic improvisations, dramatic pacing, dynamic effects, innovative small-ensemble arrangements, and use of musical space.

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Jamal, Ahmad

Ahmad Jamal

Pianist, composer

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Regarded as an outstanding conceptionalist with a distinctive style, pianist and composer Ahmad Jamal has made a significant impact on the jazz idiom. His lean style, complex use of space, and simple embellishments have served as a model for many other artists, most notably Miles Davis.I live until he makes another record, the legendary trumpeter once said of Jamal, as quoted by Down Beats Owen Cordle. But despite his impact on jazz, Jamal feels uncomfortable with the labeljazz musician. Instead, he prefers to call himself an American classical musician.I started the phrase American classical music, he said to American Visions contributor Eugene Holley.The term jazz is certainly not sufficient; it was used to try and downgrade the music, but the music was so viable and it was so potent, nothing could keep it down.

Over the course of his professional career, Jamal, who converted to Islam in 1950, led several trios and made some 50 recordings, including the 1958 landmark album Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing. His ensemble peaked in popularity during the 1950s and 1960s, when he performed mostly jazz standards. Since the 1980s, Jamal has focused his attention on his own compositions. While less accepted later in his career by the mainstream, Jamal continued to draw critical accolades. In recognition of his achievements, he received a $20,000 Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994. That same year, Yale University named Jamal a Duke Ellington Fellow. In 1996, for his album The Essence Part 1, Jamal won the prestigious Django dOr award in France. His follow-up projects,The Essence Part 2 and The Essence Part 3, released in 1997 and 1998, respectively, further illustrated Jamals ever-evolving musicianship.

Jamal was born Frederick Russell Jones on July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city that also produced such jazz talent as Kenny Clarke, Mary Lou Williams, Erroll Garner, and Art Blakey. A child prodigy, Jamal immersed himself in European classical music early in life. At the age of three, he started playing the piano, and at age seven, Jamals mother arranged for her son to take formal lessons. A domestic, she walked to work in order to save enough money to pay for Jamals training. By the age of eleven, the pianist was already skilled enough to begin playing professionally at a local club.I cant remember the place, he said in an interview with Boston Globe staff writer Marian Christy.I only remember that people threw loads of money on the bandstand. Maybe it was only a few dollars total. But it sure seemed like a lot of money then.

In high school, Jamal further pursued classical studies with noted concert singer Mary Caldwell and pianist James Miller, completing with his instructors the equivalent of college graduate classes. To this day, Jamals classical background remains influential.There are very few people playing European classical music that also know Art Tatum and Duke Ellington, said Jamal to Holley.However, its not the same position with the so-called jazz musician, who has to be twice as good as the so-called classical musician and know both worlds in order to get work.

During his teen years, Jamal also explored his growing interest in jazz and was greatly inspired by Art Tatum, Teddy Williams, and, especially, a local bebop pianist named Erroll Garner.Erroll was my major inspiration, not one, my major inspiration, he said, as quoted by Greg Fitzgerald for Nation Public Radios Jazz Profiles. In fact, critics would later compare Jamals technique to that of Garner, though many cite Jamal as a more intricate player. Because he used the full range of the keyboard in a more simple manner, Jamal was later able to present his trio as a scaled down orchestra of sorts.

At age 14, Jamal joined the musicians union. Upon graduating from Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh in 1948, he joined the George Hudson Orchestra in Atlantic City and embarked on a national tour. Winning significant critical acclaim for his solos, Jamal nonetheless learned a certain truth about playing before an audience. As he commented to Christy,Performing is like being the matador in the bullring. You have to be constantly concerned about what youre doing or you get gored.

In 1949, Jamal started playing with violinist Joe Kennedy, Jr., and his group, the Four Strings. Kennedy,

For the Record

Born Frederick Russell Jones on July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh, PA.Education: Studied music with concert singer Mary Caldwell and pianist James Miller.

Began playing piano at age three and taking classical music lessons at age seven; toured with the George Hudson Orchestra touring, 1948; joined Joe Kennedy, Jr.s the Four Strings, 1949; worked as accompanist for the Caldwells, formed his first trio, the Three Strings, 1950; released Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing, 1958; released Digital Works, 1981; releasedThe Essence: Part 1, 1996. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Master of Jazz Award, 1994; Yale University, Duke Ellington Fellow, 1994.

Addresses: Record company Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10104, phone: (212) 707-2533, fax: (212) 405-5665.Publicist Sue Cassidy Clark, 1040 Chesnut St., San Francisco, CA 94109-1230; 470 West End Ave., No. 10E, New York City, NY 10024. Website Ahmad Jamal Home Page: http://ww2.cybernex.net/~ajamal. E-mail Ahmad Jamal:ajamal@cybernex.net.

who grew up with Jamal, had always regarded the pianist as immensely talented.When he was 13 or 14, his harmonic sense even way back then was beyond his years, Kennedy recalled to Holley. One night we heard Art Tatum, and Ahmad played a tune for him, and Tatum said that that boy is a coming great. Led by Jamals tight arrangements and minimalist approach, the quartet brought the chamber jazz sound into being. Jamal, by taking the popular standards of the day and adding to them Latin and blues rhythms and orchestral voicings, captured the attention of many within the jazz community.

Miles Davis, in particular, greatly admired Jamals style.Miles really listened and what he heard from Ahmad was the orchestra that Ahmad had under his fingers, bassist Jamil Nasser told Fitzgerald.Miles was one of those sharp people who wasnt too hip to say this is the way I want to go. Later in his autobiography, Davis said of Jamal,He knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, his understatement, and the way he phrased notes and chords and passages. Throughout his own career, Davis recorded many of the same standards that Jamal played, including A Gal in Calico, My Funny Valentine, and Surrey With the Fringe on Top. And on his 1959 Miles Ahead recording with Gil Evans, Miles transcribed New Rumba, an original composed by Jamal, note for note. In addition to borrowing from Jamals repertoire, he further insisted that his accompanying pianist, Red Garland, to try to sound like Jamal.

In 1950, Jamal worked as accompanist for the Caldwells, a popular song and dance team. Also that year, he formed his first trio, the Three Strings, with guitarist Ray Crawford (from the Four Strings) and bassist Eddie Calhoun. The group won extended engagements at such venues as the Blue Note in Chicago and the Embers club in New York City. While performing at the Embers, producer John Hammonddiscovered the Three Strings and signed them to Columbias Okeh Records soon thereafter.

In 1956, Jamal constructed a new trioconsisting of bassist Israel Crosby, who replaced Calhoun in 1955, and a drummer instead of a guitaristand took up residence as the house group at Chicagos Pershing Hotel. In 1958, drummer Vernell Fournier joined Jamal and Crosby, and the trio made a live recording. The resulting album, Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing, featuring his famous version of Poinciana, earned recognition as a milestone in jazz recordings. Winning praise from jazz music listeners as well as critics, Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing rose to the top of theBillboard charts, where it remained for an astounding 108 weeks.

Spurred by the success of his trios recording, Jamal recorded and toured non-stop in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He also opened his own non-alcoholic club, the Alhambra, in Chicago, which closed in 1962. Some years later, Jamal moved to New York and formed another trio with bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Frank Gant. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, several other noted jazz players received their start from Jamal. Bassist Richard Davis, composer/arranger Richard Evans, and drummer Walter Perkins, among others, all graduated from Jamals trio.

Following the release of Digital Works in 1981, featuring new versions ofBut Not for Me andPoinciana, Jamal concentrated increasingly on original compositions. I believe that weve done enough adaptation of popular songs, he said to Holley.Now is the time for the musician to write his own repertoire rather than to keep resurrecting the things that are in somebody elses head. Although less accessible than his rework-ings of popular standards, Jamals own songs were decidedly more complex and evolved.

Jamal has continued to record and perform. In 2000, the Chess label re-issuedAhmad Jamal at the Pershing as a two-CD set under the titleCross Country Tour. Now in his seventies, he still plays with the same enthusiasm and brilliancy of a young man.Ive been described as intense, he told Christy.Maybe its true. You cant separate the man and the music. There are always tunes floating in my head. Im always planning for the next performance . If its possible, Im drawn to my music more deeply than ever before. When I pass a piano anywhere, I have to touch it or play it.

Selected discography

Poinciana, Portrait/Epic, 1952.

Chamber Music of New Jazz, Argo, 1955.

Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing, Argo, 1958.

Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal, Argo, 1960.

Jamal at the Penthouse, Argo, 1962.

The Awakening, GRP/lmpulse, 1970.

Digital Works, Atlantic, 1981.

Pittsburgh, Atlantic, 1989.

Live at Blues Alley, Blues Alley Music Society, 1992.

Chicago Revisited: Live at the Jazz Showcase, Telare, 1993.

Live in Paris, 92, Birdology, 1993.

I Remember Duke, Hoagy and Strayhom, Telare, 1995.

The Essence, Part 1, Verve, 1996.

The Essence, Part 2, Verve, 1997.

Nature: The Essence Part 3, Atlantic, 1998.

Cross Country Tour, Chess, 2000.

Sources

Books

Whos Who Among African Americans, 13th edition, Gale Group, 2000.

Periodicals

American Visions, October/November 1994.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 29, 1995.

Billboard, September 26, 1998.

Boston Globe, January 7, 1988; January 25, 1989; January 22, 1998; November 6, 1998.

Down Beat, April 1993; May 1993; March 1995; November 2000; December 2000.

Forbes, July 3, 2000; January 2001.

Jet, January 17, 1994; September 28, 1998.

Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1987; December 17, 1992; January 14, 1994; December 1, 1994; September 11, 1998; September 14, 1998.

Unesco Courier, July 1993.

Washington Post, December 29, 2000.

Online

Ahmad Jamal Home Page, http://ww2.cybernex.net/~ajamal (February 9, 2001).

All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com(February 9, 2001).

Jazz Profiles: Ahmad Jamal,National Public Radio, http://www.npr.org/programs/jazzprofiles/jamal.html(February 9, 2001).

Laura Hightower

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