Over the course of an influential career, he transformed the rhythmic and melodic textures of improvised music.
Ted - What an excellent tribute to one of the "game changers" of mid-late 20th Century jazz music. Ahmad Jamal never lost the importance of melody he highlighted in his playing, in my opinion. Like Beethoven, he recognized the importance of the "pause" in bringing the listener into the complete "narrative" of the music. How interesting that he elevated Peace to the highest level of our personal goals and life's walk in these times in which we live. Kent H
Brilliant piece that brought back memories. I was a dumb kid from Michigan, in college in the 60s, in Chicago, where one of the radio stations broadcast live music late on Saturday nights...and there it was--“Poinciana,”--which never seemed to end, and when it did, I wanted it to go on forever. Jamal could lock a kid's brain up in a velvet box and throw away the key. Effortlessly.
I really love reading your page Ted. My dad was a huge jazz fan. I grew up listening to it in the house and you talk about a lot of his favorites! Always makes me think of him, thank you!
A magnificent pianist. Thanks, Ted
In 1965, me and a high school buddy would often skip a class and go to the local university where they had ping pong tables set up in the student union. We'd play ping pong for that hour, while listening to Ahmed Jamal on the jukebox. In retrospect, those were crowning achievements in my early education. Thank you, Ahmed Jamal, I bow my head in your honor.
Thank you for this excellent tribute, Ted. I'm just beginning to explore Substack and Notes and very impressed with what I've found thus far. Probably my biggest hurdle will be time.
I well remember discovering Ahmed Jamal and so many other artists in that era. I was the weird kid who was into jazz and classical and later folk, with only occasional forays into popular genres.
Saw Ahmed along with a host of other greats at the Philly Jazz Festival - I think 1959. Even have his LP wherein guitar replaced bass. I'd have to look up the name of the guitarist. I always thought the trio sounded like one person with many arms.
Thanks for introducing me to Jamal. I’ve been reading your articles on jazz and wanting to like the genre, but I typically only like the “romantic” songs. I also like Vincent Guaraldi, because of the Charlie Brown Christmas album, and Donald Fagan’s Night Fly album, which you probably wouldn’t consider real jazz. Anyway, now with Jamal, I have a good diving off point. I even started a jazz playlist to add artists I find I like. Thanks again!
Superb tribute to an artist I never got until I read Miles singing paeans to a pianist I had long associated with block chords and an occasional note or two, an artist I'd continued to wholly discount and pay no attention to. Still. STILL. Then, today, 16 April 2023, Ted writes and adds one-plus-one (somehow) equals the great and influential Kind of Blue...I'd known, from Miles' own comments and from hours of listening to the first great quintet, his spaciousness and silences, which came to complete fruition in this one revered album...but never credited these, in part much less in whole, to an Ahmad Jamal approach to time and space. I am chastened. And I belatedly have a significant amount of music to listen to over the next several days.
Thank you for this tribute, Ted 💚 🥃
He was spectacular. My wife and I saw him in concert in Atlanta in the mid-1980's when Betty Carter could not make the gig because of health issues. The announcer mentioned that she was ill and in her place "Ahmad Jamal!" The place went wild. He was diminutive in stature. The (Steinway) piano looked like a battleship compared to him. He strode out (all solo stuff...no group...) and played with such force (and beauty) it was stupendous. As far as the "battle" between him and the piano...he won. I have seen (and played trombone with) some great musicians...but this guy was in another star system altogether. BTW - As to his name? It was certainly appropriate. It was a mad jam all............
A worthy tribute.
I confess I initially had an aversion to Ahmad Jamal's music. It was "accessible" jazz, preferred by some of the Chicago hipsters on my dorm floor. I found it superficial, repetitive, numbing. Then came Miles Davis' endorsement, and I began listening to Ahamad without using Bud Powell as the measure of a modern jazz pianist. Several of us who played jazz spoke of "blowing piano," which was a way of recognizing the influence of saxophonists--especially Bird--on the music. Ahmad didn't play long, complex melodic lines like Bud or Bird. But when I suspended my expectation of how a jazz pianist should sound, I heard a pianist who was at once a tone colorist and a dramatist. You never knew what was happening after the completion of a riff that was never in the expected place--prefacing a cadence resolving to the tonic, etc. Because of his displacements of time through riffs that were familiar in their melodic shape but not in their positioning, I found I could listen to his "Poinciana" repeatedly without tiring of it--an appeal that also owed much to Jamal's touch at the piano--not harsh yet not lacking in power and resonance of the note's fundamentals.
Ahmad's recordings tended to betray their less professional origins in Chicago studios that did not have the same sophisticated technology as big labels like Columbia or Capital or London. That may have contributed to my preference for hearing him "live"--no more than 5 times, all prior to the present millennium. He was mesmerizing in his appearance, especially when he seemed to turn his attention away from the keyboard and direct his gaze upward, drums and bass continuing without the piano. But my favorite memory of his playing was at a Chicago Club owned by Ramsey Lewis, another "accessible" pianist who, unlike Ahmad Jamal, quickly lost my attention after a single hearing. I had talked up Ahmad to my "date," stressing his subtlety and nuanced playing. But a look at the bandstand made me fear I had misrepresented what she would hear. There was a trap drummer's kit along with a complete percussion assembly for a latin-styled "hand-drummer" plus a bass--an electric bass.
I feared the worst, especially in the small room which held approx. 50 customers at tables and the bar (our vantage point). I could not have been more wrong. Far too many times I had been driven from such rooms by bass tones that covered and all but erased the tones of the singer's voice. But this time--for once--the balance was perfect. There was no sense of competition between the two drummers, and the bass was present and pitch-identifiable but never invasive. Like a magician, Ahmad had "tuned the room," achieving a felicitous balance of sound that made the end of the set arrive all too soon.
Ahmad acquired further "legitimacy" for me when I heard him in duet with vibraharpist Gary Burton (usually the duet partner of Chick Corea). The set featured long stretches during which the two traded musical ideas, challenging one player to play back the musical idea of the other--with the addition of a "twist," or a new melodic-rhythmic idea. Ahmad was never at a loss for ideas and never hesitant to play back and modify the offerings of his partner. By contrast, Gary looked flustered, pushed to his limit to satisfy the requirements the pair had agreed upon in advance.
Though physically challenged in his last couple of years, Ahmad was described as always alert and responsive once the music began. Of all jazz pianists, he stood the best chance of securing a large audience. (I read that Ramsey's "The Inn Crowd" sold more records, which made me want to shake listeners into the joys of listening to Ahmad's piano.) I'm glad to read that there are previously undiscovered Jamal recordings yet to come to publication.
Just today… “Poinciana” on repeat.
Sadly the passing of yet another of a remarkable musician.
That makes me sad. A good life, a full life, not a tragedy by any means. But it diminishes the richness of our life in this veil.
One of my all time favourites. What a lovely, fitting tribute. I too loved a lot of his more recent work as well as the earlier masterpieces. Rest in peace Ahmad Jamal.
Adjectives fail me when it comes to describing the music and the talent of Ahmad Jamal. If it makes any sense whatsoever, he had a unique ability to play hard and soft simultaneously. I was going to post the same video that Ted included in the body of his reflections as I"ve always found it to be the quintessential reflection of those skills. RIP. Mr. Jamal. Thanks for everything.