Ahmad Jamal, pioneering jazz pianist, dies at 92
Jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal died Sunday, April 16, as confirmed by his wife Laura Hess-Hey. His minimal playing style -- a tether between the era of hard bop and cool jazz -- was massively influential. The Washington Post reports:
In a professional career that began at 14 in his native Pittsburgh, Mr. Jamal proved over seven decades to be a musician of ceaseless growth and invention, a minimalist, classicist and modernist who sought to erase distinctions among musical genres. He was also, in the 1950s, among the first African American performers who publicly adopted the Muslim faith.
Mr. Jamal’s preferred musical format was the trio, and he found critical success with a quiet, understated rhythmic style and dramatic use of silence between notes. His trademark was an ingeniously airy approach to classic pop standards such as “Love for Sale,” “A Gal in Calico” and “Don’t Blame Me” or in his own groove-inflected compositions such as “Ahmad’s Blues,” a song that became part of the jazz repertoire.
His group was the house band for Chicago’s Black-owned Pershing Hotel lounge — a favorite hangout for Billie Holiday and Sammy Davis Jr. — when Mr. Jamal recorded his 1958 commercial breakthrough, “Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not For Me.”
The million-selling album stayed on the Billboard magazine charts for more than 100 weeks, and its centerpiece was an eight-minute rendition of the 1930s pop ballad “Poinciana.” Mr. Jamal’s version — his signature number for the rest of his life — was driven by a Caribbean-flavored, near-hypnotic bass-and-drum pulse from whose rolling contours the pianist set off delicately timed eruptions of chords and clusters.
The most prominent contemporary to embrace Mr. Jamal as a stylistic influence was trumpeter Miles Davis, who recalled in his 1989 autobiography that Mr. Jamal “knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, and the way he phrases notes and chords and passages.”
Rest in Peace, Ahmad Jamal.
Listen to some of his work below.