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Ahmad Jamal

Calendar

Date Venue Location
Sep 17 Hill Auditorium Ann Arbor, MI

Biography

Born: July 2, 1930 Instrument: Piano
In 1951, Mr. Jamal first recorded 'Ahmad's Blues' on Okeh Records. His arrangement of the folk tune 'Billy Boy', and 'Poinciana' (not his original composition), also stem from this period. In 1955, he recorded his first Argo (Chess) Records album that included 'New Rhumba', 'Excerpts From The Blues', 'Medley' (actually 'I Don't Want To Be Kissed'), and 'It Ain't Necessarily So' --all later utilized by Miles Davis and Gil Evans on the albums “Miles Ahead” and “Porgy and Bess.” In his autobiography, Mr. Davis praises Mr. Jamal's special artistic qualities and cites his influence. In fact, the mid-to-late 1950's Miles Davis Quintet recordings notably feature material previously recorded by Mr. Jamal: 'Squeeze Me', 'It Could Happen To You', 'But Not For Me', 'Surrey With The Fringe On Top', 'Ahmad's Blues', 'On Green Dolphin Street' and 'Billy Boy'.

In 1956, Mr. Jamal, who had already been joined by bassist Israel Crosby in 1955, replaced guitarist Ray Crawford with a drummer. Working as the “house trio” at Chicago's Pershing Hotel drummer Vernell Fournier joined this trio in 1958 and Mr. Jamal made a live album for Argo Records entitled “But Not For Me”. The resulting hit single and album, that also included 'Poinciana' -- his rendition could be considered his “signature”. This album remained on the Ten Best-selling charts for 108 weeks -- unprecedented then for a jazz album. This financial success enabled Mr. Jamal to realize a dream, and he opened a restaurant/club, The Alhambra, in Chicago. Here the Trio was able to perform while limiting their touring schedule and Mr. Jamal was able to do record production and community work.

Mr. Jamal was born on July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A child prodigy who began to play the piano at the age of 3, he began formal studies at age 7. While in high school, he completed the equivalent of college master classes under the noted African-American concert singer and teacher Mary Caldwell Dawson and pianist James Miller. He joined the musicians union at the age of 14, and he began touring upon graduation from Westinghouse High School at the age of 17, drawing critical acclaim for his solos. In 1950, he formed his first trio, The Three Strings. Performing at New York's The Embers club, Record Producer John Hammond “discovered” The Three Strings and signed them to Okeh Records (a division of Columbia, now Sony Records).

Mr. Jamal has continued to record his outstanding original arrangements of such standards as 'I Love You', 'A Time For Love', 'On Green Dolphin Street' (well before Miles Davis!), 'End of a Love Affair', to cite a few. Mr. Jamal's own classic compositions begin with 'Ahmad's Blues' (first recorded on October 25, 1951!), 'New Rhumba', 'Manhattan Reflections', 'Tranquility', 'Extensions', 'The Awakening', 'Night Mist Blues' and most recently 'If I Find You Again', among many others..

In 1994, Mr. Jamal received the American Jazz Masters award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The same year he was named a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University, where he performed commissioned works with the Assai String Quartet. A CD is available of these works.

In 1970, Mr. Jamal performed the title tune by Johnny Mandel for the soundtrack of the film “Mash!”; and in 1995, two tracks from his hit album “But Not For Me” -- 'Music, Music, Music', and 'Poinciana' -- were featured in the Clint Eastwood film “The Bridges of Madison County”.

Mr. Jamal's CD entitled “The Essence” features tenor saxophonist George Coleman -- Mr. Jamal's first recording made with a horn! Critical acclaim and outstanding sales resulted in two prestigious awards: D'jango D'or (critics) and Cloch (for sales) in France. Its success generated a concert at Salle Pleyel, and a CD has been released “Ahmad Jamal a Paris” (1992) and a second “live” concert by Mr. Jamal in l996 under the same title, unissued except in France and available on the Dreyfus Records on the Internet, Mr. Jamal rightly considers one of his best recordings. Ahmad Jamal's 70th Birthday “live” concert recording Olympia 2000, is known as “The Essence Part III”. “The Essence, Part II”, featured Donald Byrd on the title track, and on his CD entitled “Nature”, Stanley Turrentine is featured on 'The Devil's In My Den', and steel drummer Othello Molineaux augments the trio format. Continuing his recording career, Mr. Jamal released “In Search of” on CD, and his first DVD “Live In Baalbeck”.

For students of the piano, Hal Leonard Publications has published “The Ahmad Jamal Collection”, a collection of piano transcriptions. Mr. Jamal continues to record exclusively for the French Birdology label, and his albums are released on Verve and Atlantic in the United States.

Mr. Jamal is an exclusive Steinway piano artist.


Mr. Jamal's 'About My Life' story in his own words:

At three years of age, my wonderful Uncle Lawrence stopped me while I was walking past the piano in my parents' living room. He was playing the piano and challenged me to duplicate what he was doing. Although I had never touched this or any piano, I sat down and played note for note what I had heard. “The rest is history.”

What a thrilling ride it has been and continues to be. I was born in one of the most remarkable places in the world for musicians and people in the arts - Pittsburgh, PA. At seven years, I was selling newspapers to Billy Strayhorn's family. Billy had already left home; I didn't get to meet him until years later. Following is a partial listing of “Pittsburghers:”

George Benson
Roy Eldridge
Art Blakey
Errol Garner
Kenny Clarke
Earl “Fatha” Hines
Billy Eckstein
Phyllis Hyman
Maxine Sullivan
Gene Kelly
Stanley Turrentine
Joe Kennedy, Jr.
Earl Wild
Oscar Levant
Mary Loe Williams
Lorin Maazel
George Hudson (his orchestra was my first job away from home, I was 17 and just out of high school.) - Dodo Marmarosa
Dakota Staton
Billy Strayhorn

At seven years of age I began my studies with a wonderful woman, Mary Cardwell Dawson. In addition to her great influence on me, she was very influential in the careers of many musical personalities on a local, as well as worldwide basis. One of her students is my life long friend, violinist, Joe Kennedy, Jr. Later, while still in my teens, I began studying with James Miller, as a result of Mrs. Dawson's relocation to Washington, D.C.

After touring with George Hudson's Orchestra, I traveled to Chicago with The Four Strings, a group headed by violinist, Joe Kennedy, Jr. Unfortunately, the group disbanded because of a lack of employment and in 1951, I formed The Three Strings.

The year 1951 was the beginning of my recording career. “Ahmad's Blues,” which I wrote in 1948 during my stint with a song and dance team out of East St. Louis, was one of my first recordings; “Ahmad's Blues” has been heard in the stage play, “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” and recorded by Marlena Shaw, Natalie Cole, Red Garland and others. The first session also included my arrangement of the folk tune, “Billy Boy,” which arrangement was copied by many of my peers. I wrote “New Rhumba” around 1951 and it has also been recorded and performed by many others, most notably Miles Davis. My most famous recording was done in Chicago in 1958 at the Pershing Hotel with two of the most talented musicians of the century, Israel Crosby and Vernell Fournier.

Five decades covering my career are most interesting to me and contain some of the historical data that you can find by clicking the indicated categories of my web page menu. What you can't find won't be available until my proposed autobiography goes to print.

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