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Ahmad Jamal

One of the most individualistic pianists, composers, and arrangers of his generation, Ahmad Jamal's disciplined technique and minimalist style had a huge impact on trumpeter Miles Davis, and Jamal is often cited as contributing to the development of cool jazz throughout the 1950s. Though Jamal was a highly technically proficient player, well-versed in the gymnastic idioms of swing and bebop, he chose to play in a more pared down and nuanced style. Which is to say that while he played with the skill of a virtuoso, it was often what he chose not to play that marked him as an innovator. Influenced by such pianists as Errol Garner, Art Tatum, and Nat King Cole, as well as big-band and orchestral music, Jamal developed his own boundary-pushing approach to modern jazz that incorporated an abundance of space, an adept use of tension and release, unexpected rhythmic phrasing and dynamics, and a highly melodic, compositional style.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 2, 1930, Jamal was a child prodigy and began playing piano at age 3, discovered by his uncle. By the time he was 7 years old, Jamal was studying privately with Mary Cardwell Dawson, the founder of the National Negro Opera Company. An accomplished musician by his teens, Jamal performed regularly in the local jazz scene and in 1949 toured with George Hudson's Orchestra. After leaving Hudson, he joined swing violinist Joe Kennedy's group the Four Strings, with whom he stayed until Kennedy's departure around 1950.

After leaving the Four Strings, Jamal relocated to Chicago, where he formed his own group, the Three Strings with bassist Eddie Calhoun and guitarist Ray Crawford. The precursor to the later Ahmad Jamal Trio, the Three Strings would, at different times, include bassists Richard Davis and Israel Crosby. During a stint in New York City, the Three Strings caught the ear of legendary Columbia record exec and talent scout John Hammond who signed the group to the Columbia subsidiary Okeh in 1951. During this time, Jamal released several influential albums including Ahmad Jamal Trio Plays (also known as Chamber Music of the New Jazz ) on Parrot (1955), The Ahmad Jamal Trio on Epic (1955), and Count 'Em 88 on Argo (1956). Some of the landmark songs recorded during these sessions included "Ahmad's Blues" and "Pavanne," both of which had a profound impact on Miles Davis, who later echoed the spare, bluesy quality of Jamal's playing on his own recordings.

In 1958, Jamal took up a residency in the lounge of the Pershing Hotel in Chicago. Working with bassist Crosby and drummer Vernell Fornier, Jamal recorded the seminal live album, Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me. Comprised primarily of jazz standards, including his definitive version of the buoyant Latin number "Poinciana," the album showcased Jamal's minimalist phrasing and unique approach to small group jazz, emphasizing varied dynamics and nuanced shading as opposed to the high energy freneticism commonly associated with jazz of the '40s and '50s.

Though somewhat misunderstood by critics at the time who did not fully appreciate the inventive qualities of Jamal's playing, the album proved a commercial success and remained on the Billboard album charts for over two years -- a rarified achievement for a jazz musician of any generation.

The smash success of Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me raised the musician's profile and allowed him to open his own club and restaurant, The Alhambra, in Chicago in 1959. During this time, Jamal released several albums on the Argo label including Ahmad Jamal Trio, Vol. 4 (1958), Ahmad Jamal at the Penthouse (1960), Happy Moods (1960), Ahmad Jamal's Alhambra (1961), and All of You (1961). Unfortunately, The Alhambra closed in 1961. The following year, Jamal disbanded his trio, moved to New York City and took a two year hiatus from the music industry.

In 1964, Jamal returned to performing and recording. Working with a new version of his trio that included bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Frank Gant, with whom he would work until 1972, Jamal recorded several more albums for Argo (later renamed Cadet) including Naked City Theme (1964), The Roar of the Greasepaint (1965), and Extensions (1965), Rhapsody (1966), Heat Wave (1966), Cry Young (1967), and The Bright, the Blue and the Beautiful (1968). Also in 1968, Jamal made his Impulse Records debut with the live album Ahmad Jamal at the Top: Poinciana Revisited. This was followed by several more Impulse releases including The Awakening (1970), Freeflight (1971), and Outertimeinnerspace (1972), both of which culled tracks from his appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1971. These albums found Jamal moving toward an expansive, funk-infused style, sometimes playing a Fender Rhodes electric keyboard. Also during the '70s, Jamal moved to the 20th Century label and continued to release a steady stream of albums that attracted both hardcore jazz and crossover audiences. Of his '70s albums, both Genetic Walk (1975) and Intervals (1979) made the R&B charts.

The '80s continued to be a productive time for Jamal, who kicked the decade off with such albums as Night Song on Motown (1980) and Live in Concert Featuring Gary Burton (1981). After signing with Atlantic, Jamal released several well-received albums that found him returning to his classic, acoustic small group sound including Digital Works (1985), Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival 1985 (1985), Rossiter Road (1986), Crystal (1987), and Pittsburgh (1989).

The '90s also saw a resurgence in interest and acclaim for Jamal, who was awarded the American Jazz Master Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994. Though he never stopped interpreting standards, Jamal utilized his own compositions more and more as the decades passed. During this period, he delivered such albums as Chicago Revisited: Live at Joel Segal's Jazz Showcase on Telarc (1992), Live in Paris '92 on Verve (1993), I Remember Duke, Hoagy & Strayhorn on Telarc (1994), as well as a handful of superb releases for Birdology including The Essence, Pt. 1 (1995), Big Byrd: The Essence, Pt. 2 (1995), and Nature: The Essence, Pt. 3 (1997).

In 2000, Jamal celebrated his 70th birthday with the concert album L'Olympia 2000 (2001), which featured saxophonist George Coleman. He followed up with In Search of Momentum (2003), After Fajr (2005), It's Magic (2008), A Quiet Time (2010), and Blue Moon: The New York Session/The Paris Concert (2012). In 2013, Jamal released the album Saturday Morning: La Buissone Studio Sessions, featuring bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley. Also in 2013, Jamal opened Lincoln Center's concert season by performing live with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. ~ Matt Collar
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Ahmad Jamal Live In Marciac, August 5th 2014 (Live)

Disc 1

1. Sunday Afternoon (Live)

2. The Shout (Live)

3. Dynamo (Live)

4. The Gypsy (Live)

5. Strollin' (Live)

6. Silver (Live)

7. All Of You (Live)

8. Morning Mist (Live)

9. Blue Moon (Live)

10. Autumn Rain (Live)

Disc 2
x

Track List: Saturday Morning

1. Back To The Future

2. I'll Always Be With You

3. Saturday Morning

4. Edith's Cake

5. The Line

6. I'm In The Mood For Love

7. Firefly

8. Silver

9. I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good

10. One

11. Saturday Morning

x

Track List: Poinciana Revisited / Freeflight

1. Have You Met Miss Jones

2. Poinciana

3. Lament

4. Call Me

5. Theme From Valley Of The Dolls

6. Frank's Tune

7. How Insensitive

8. Introduction

9. Effendi

10. Dolphin Dance

11. Manhattan Reflections

12. Poinciana

x

Track List: A Quiet Time

1. Paris After Dark

2. The Love Is Lost

3. Flight To Russia

4. Petry

5. Hi-Fly

6. My Inspiration

7. After Jalc (Jazz At Lincoln Center)

8. A Quiet Time

9. Tranquility

10. The Blooming Flower

11. I Hear A Rhapsody

x

Track List: It's Magic

1. Dynamo

2. Swahililand

3. Back To The Island

4. It's Magic

5. Wild Ls The Wind / Sing

6. The Way You Look Tonight

7. Arabesque

8. Papillon

9. Fitnah

x

Track List: The Legendary Okeh & Epic Recordings

1. The Surrey With The Fringe On Top

2. Will You Still Be Mine

3. Ahamd's Blues

4. A Gal in Calico

5. Aki And Ukthay

6. Billy Boy

7. Black Beauty

8. Love For Sale

9. Something To Remember You By

10. Poinciana

11. Don't Blame me

12. Autumn Leaves

13. They Can't Take That Away from me

14. Old Devil Moon

15. It's Easy To Remember

16. Squeeze Me

17. Crazy He Calls Me

18. Pavanne

19. Perfidia

20. Rica Pulpa

21. The Donkey Serenade

x

Track List: After Fajr

1. I'm Old Fashioned

2. After Fajr

3. Milan

4. Yours Is My Heart Alone

5. Swahililand

6. My Heart Stood Still

7. Time On My Hands

8. Topsy Turvy

9. Manhattan Reflections

x

Track List: In Search Of

1. In Search Of

2. Should I

3. Excerpts From I'll Take The 20

4. Island Fever

5. I've Never Been In Love Before

6. Where Are You

7. Where Are You Now

8. You Can See

9. Perfidia

10. I'll Always Be With You

x

Track List: Olympia

1. Night Has A Thousand Eyes

2. How Deep Is The Ocean

3. Autumn Leaves

4. My Foolish Heart

5. Appreciation

6. Aftermath

x

Track List: Live At The Pershing & The Spotlight

1. But Not For Me (Live)

2. Surrey With The Fringe On Top (Live)

3. Moonlight In Vermont (Live)

4. (Put Another Nickel In) Music! Music! Music! (Live)

5. No Greater Love (Live)

6. Poinciana (Live)

8. What's New (Live)

10. A Gal In Calico (Live)

11. Ivy (Live)

12. Tater Pie (Live)

13. Autumn Leaves (Live)

14. This Can't Be Love (Live)

x

Track List: Pittsburgh

1. Pittsburgh

2. Bellows

3. Mellowdrama

4. Foolish Ways

5. Divertimento

6. Cycles

7. Fly Away

8. Apple Avenue

x

Track List: Digital Works

1. Poinciana

2. But Not For Me

3. Midnight Sun

4. Footprints

5. Once Upon A Time

6. One

7. La Costa

8. Misty

9. Theme From M.A.S.H.

10. Biencavo

11. Time For Love

12. Wave

x

Track List: Live At The Montreal Jazz Festival 1985

1. Yellow Fellow

2. Make Someone Happy (live)

3. Acorn

4. Crossroads

5. Rossiter Road

6. 'Round Midnight (live)

7. Footprints (live)

8. Ebony

x

Track List: The Awakening

1. The Awakening

2. I Love Music

3. Patterns

4. Dolphin Dance

5. You're My Everything

6. Stolen Moments

7. Wave

x

Track List: Ahmad's Blues

1. Ahmad's Blues (Live)

2. It Could Happen To You (Live)

3. I Wish I Knew

4. Autumn Leaves (Live)

5. Stompin' At The Savoy

6. Cheek To Cheek

7. The Girl Next Door

8. Secret Love

9. Squatty Roo

10. Taboo

12. A Gal In Calico

13. That's All

14. Should I?

15. Seleritus

16. Let's Fall In Love

x

Track List: At The Pershing-But Not For Me

1. But Not For Me (Live)

2. Surrey With The Fringe On Top (Live)

3. Moonlight In Vermont (live)

4. (Put Another Nickel In) Music, Music, Music

5. No Greater Love (Live)

6. Poinciana (live)

7. Woody 'N You

8. What's New

x

Track List: Chamber Music Of The New Jazz

1. New Rumba

2. A Foggy Day

3. All Of You

4. It Ain't Necessarily So

5. I Don't Want To Be Kissed (By Anyone But You)

6. I Get A Kick Out Of You

7. Jeff

8. Darn That Dream

9. Spring Is Here

x

Track List: Blue Moon

1. Autumn Rain

2. Blue Moon

3. Gypsy

4. Invitation

5. I Remember Italy

6. Laura

7. Morning Mist

8. This Is The Life

9. Woody'n You

Comments

Report as inappropriate
Love his style of music.
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Beautiful music played with style!
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An amazing talented Artist
.I love all of his music and wish him the best of health and happiness for his future.
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Thanks
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Aretha Franklin
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ebouler3
Finally!!!!! This song is y i made da station!! Crisp melody, sharp piano chords n a supporting group is all u need 2 make a successful hit. Thanks mr jamal. Hope u all lyk dis.
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ebouler3
Mr jamal is a great pianist! I wud luv 2 have his total collection
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Ralston is correct!
"But not for me" truly a classic!!
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My man .... with style class and grace authentic come to mind how he makes me feel
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but not for me is his best alblum
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lisafsousa
Listening to Ahmad Jamal is like going home. I grew up listening to him in the SF bay area in the 60's. My mom would put his records on while we napped and she cleaned the house. She introduced me to some of the greatest jazz musicians of our time before I was 5 years old. How lucky was I?
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Just discovering this incredible musician … really like this piece and look forward to exploring more of his music
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Can't find the words. Skynndove
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Well, of course it's Ahmad Jamal. I could tell from the next room. Every note is exactly right.
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Alfoti1940


That's all I listened to while I was in high school was Mr Jamal!
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Jamal is unique in his delivery!
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Goldfingers.
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2nd best version of that tune. Bravo!
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One of the songs he played at the Jazz Festival was Saturday Morning from my note below is what I was referencing. He is one of the all time greats. I continue to enjoy his music.
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Heard him at our last Jazz Festival in Detroit, MI. Still smooth and easy. Great music all through the years. ay Morning that day and it was so good. I have the (CD) and play it all the time.
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The. Awakening
by. Ahmad. Jamal
on. The. Awakening
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Always there!!
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It's the A man.
Nothing else needs to be said.
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pjchubbear-p a n d o r a
One of the best!
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Love all his work, fell in love with the Atlantic recordings
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gedstover
Beautiful jazz. I've been a fan since the early 60's.
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Just Looove It!
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I put him right with Monk.
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AWESOME!
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aldersonw
ONE OF THE ALL TIME BEST!
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he's very smooth!
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Saw him at Basis Street East NYC 70's and went back a second night. He quieted the crowd by playing so softly you had to strain to hear the first few bars, then WOW.
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If Ahmad is good enough for the off track series, its good enough for me!
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perkins.fran k
His music is the theme of life
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great jazz
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Where's Jamal's Live at the Blackhawk recordings?
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chidiego
One of the Best from the 50's & 60's in Chi town my town. You can't beat Poinciana and But not for me !
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yup
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bejamb
Clean riffs, stirring
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Nuff' said!!!!
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edwardmclean 1
Truley a talanted jazz pianist. Been a fan since 1958.
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rlgiffin
Saw him in Washington, DC in 1959 in pouring rain and been a fan ever since.
Report as inappropriate
I love all instruments to paint to the tune,.My uncle had me hooked on the piano @ 5 years old! He was a very stricked piano teacher I felt sorry for his students but He, Bishop McMride was the best! He taught me to hear and appreciate music. Jamal is one of the greatest/bes t I've heard!
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vmills007
Gives the best live show!!
Report as inappropriate
hartfield2
Bought "But Not for me" in 1959, been a fan ever since.
Report as inappropriate
herb.blacker
Listened to him since '55. Still the best.
Report as inappropriate
I think when even Miles Davis says that you influenced him, you're doing something right. Ahmad Jamal has got to be one of the best pianists I have ever heard in my entire life.
Report as inappropriate
blumenjsr
love ahmad jamal.
Report as inappropriate
Mmmm, just cool and groovy man.
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