Black Artist Spotlight: Ahmad Jamal

By Nick Rascona

The smooth sultry sounds of the jazz piano hold a special place in music. Listening to Ahmad Jamal and his trio from the album titled, The Ahmad Jamal Trio brings energy to your space that dances around a funky jazz fusion in a traditional set. The natural romantic tones Ahmad Jamal chooses to employ characterize his perspective with every phrase. A person can normally tell who they are listening to, by the nature of their melodies. If you listen close enough, you can hear the books he reads and the marching steps in his peddle control.

Being that Ahmad Jamal was born and raised in Pittsburg, PA his influences come from the Pittsburgh jazz musicians such as Earl HinesBilly StrayhornMary Lou Williams, and Erroll Garner.

In 1951, he cut his first records with “The Three Strings”, later to be called the Ahmad Jamal Trio, although Jamal did not prefer to use the term “trio”. That goes into the traditional style of jazz trios where members are rather interchangeable. Many combos employ different drummers and bassists: often times due to availability, perhaps that’s why Jamal didn’t like to use trio. The Three Strings had their big break when producer, John Hammond saw the band play at The Embers in New York City; signing them to Okeh Records. This put The Three Strings in the same company as Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, and Count Basie.

Clint Eastwood featured two songs of Jamal’s in his 1995 movie The Bridges of Madison County: “Music, Music, Music” and “Poinciana”.

Unfortunately, in the 2008 Universal Studios fire, some of Ahmad Jamal’s music was lost forever along with many other artists. But, although some of his work is gone it still lives on. At the age of 80 and beyond, Jamal continues to create music. He released the albums Saturday Morning (2013), the CD/DVD release Ahmad Jamal Featuring Yusef Lateef Live at L’Olympia (2014), and Marseille (2017), which vocals in French.

Ahmad Jamal is one of the most successful contemporary jazz pianists and continues to lead his legacy. He’s inspired many including piano virtuosa Hiromi Uehara who credits Jamal with being her main mentor.

Ahmad Jamal is now 91 years old, his latest release of music was in 2019.

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