Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


JAMAL, Ahmad

(b Fritz Jones, 2 July 1930, Pittsburgh PA) Pianist, leader. He made his pro debut whilt still in high school, toured as an accompanist, and adopted an Islamic name. He formed a trio and debuted at Chicago's Blue Note '51-2, recording as Ahmad Jamal's Three Strings with guitarist Ray Crawford and bassist Eddie Calhoun. From the beginning his piano style attracted attention, spare and deceptively light like that of Count Basie, uniquely swinging like Erroll Garner, influential and widely praised: 'All my inspiration today', said Miles Davis c1957, 'comes from Ahmad Jamal, the Chicago pianist,' adding later, 'Listen to the way Jamal uses space. He lets it go so that you can feel the rhythm section and the rhythm section can feel you.'

Calhoun was replaced by Richard Davis, then the wonderful Israel Crosby (b Chicago 19 January 1919; d there 11 August 1962); this lineup made two LPs for Epic and its first for Argo '55, a subsidiary of Chicago's Chess R&B label: Chamber Music Of The New Jazz. Count 'Em '56 had Crosby, Walter Perkins on drums; But Not For Me '58 was made in January at the Pershing Hotel with Crosby and Vernell Fournier on drums (d 4 November 2000 in Jackson MS aged 72): many Jamal LPs made the jazz charts, but this one unexpectedly and deservedly made no. 3 on the national Billboard pop album chart, first of five to cross over. Vol. 2 from the Pershing was issued some time later; a studio LP was made in June with Perkins; Fournier was back for a date in September at the Spotlight Club in Washington DC, where Jamal's first tracks made outside Chicago filled LPs including Poinciana and Ahmad Jamal, Volume IV (second pop chart entry at no. 11); Jamal At The Penthouse '59 was the third pop hit at no. 32, the trio back in Chicago with a string section directed by Joe Kennedy. Further albums: Happy Moods by the trio and Listen To The Ahmad Jamal Quintet with Crawford on guitar and Kennedy on violin, both '60; Ahmad Jamal's Alhambra '61 made at that Chicago venue, tracks on two Argo LPs; tracks made At The Blackhawk same year in San Francisco turned up on several Argo, Cadet and Chess LPs. Macanudo '62 had Jamal with the Richard Evans orchestra in NY; by Naked City Theme '63-4 the great Crosby was gone and the trio included Jamil Sulieman on bass, Chuck Lampkin on drums. The Roar Of The Greasepaint '65 on Argo was followed by Extensions '65 on Cadet with Fournier back on drums. More Cadet LPs included Heat Wave '66, with Fournier replaced by Frank Gant, Cry Young '67 (third pop chart entry at no. 168), The Bright, The Blue And The Beautiful '68, the last two with the Howard Roberts Chorale.

He switched to ABC/Impulse for Tranquility '68, Jamal At The Top '69 (recorded at the Village Gate; reissued on Affinity as Poinciana); The Awakening '70 followed by the last Impulse LPs: Free Flight and Outertimeinnerspace from Montreux '71 saw Jamal playing some electric piano. Live At Oil Can Harry's on Catalyst was made in Vancouver with Gant, John Hurd on bass, Calvin Keys on guitar; '77-80 LPs on 20th Century included Steppin' Out With A Dream, adding Seldon Newton's percussion; Genetic Walk with Hurd, Gant, Keys, several others included a horn section (last pop chart entry at no. 173), and Intervals. Live At Bubba's '80 from Fort Lauderdale on Kingdom Gate had Sabu Adeyola on bass, Payton Crossley on drums; Night Song '80 on Motown (later on MoJazz CD) had Oscar Brashear on trumpet with Keys and many others included strings and choir; In Concert and Live In Concert '81 from Cannes had Adeyola, Crossley and Gary Burton; these were on Chiaroscuro, other labels. American Classical Music '82 on Shubra was made with Adeyola, Crossley, Newton. More albums were two-disc sets Digital Works and Live At Montreal Jazz Festival 1985, Rossiter Road '86 on Atlantic; Ahmad Crystal '88 was yet another hit in the Billboard jazz chart.

Most of these were out of print; Argo and Cadet material has rarely been reissued, but there were a few items on Chess and MCA/Impulse; Poinciana on Portrait Masters compiles tracks from '51-5. After decades of hard work and heavy touring the recording had slowed down and the minimalist style Miles Davis liked had become fuller; later albums were Chicago Revisited '93 and I Remember Duke, Hoagy And Strayhorn '95 on Telarc, Live In Paris '92 and The Essence Part 1 '94-5 on Verve: the latter, with Idris Muhammad on drums and with George Coleman on two tracks, was the first time he'd recorded with a sax and got a rave review in Cadence. Big Byrd -- The Essence Part 2 '94-5 compiled tracks with various personnel including Joe Kennedy on violin and Donald Byrd. Chamber Music of the New Jazz was finally issued on CD 2004 by Verve.