Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler

Ahmad Jamal: Still Fearless And Innovative At 82

fromKVIX

Ahmad Jamal at the grand piano during the Blue Moon sessions. i i

Ahmad Jamal at the grand piano during the Blue Moon sessions. Jacques Beneich hide caption

itoggle caption Jacques Beneich
Ahmad Jamal at the grand piano during the Blue Moon sessions.

Ahmad Jamal at the grand piano during the Blue Moon sessions.

Jacques Beneich

Today jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal celebrates his 82nd birthday, presumably near Montauban, France, where he will play a gig tomorrow. In fact, he'll spend most of the month in France, The Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland and Turkey doing what he does best: pouring himself into his enchanting music.

Since the early 1950s, Jamal has been a driving force in jazz, profoundly influencing a number of musicians including Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Jamal's earliest recording sessions were with piano, bass and guitar; he soon replaced the guitar with drums. In each of these formats, Jamal's approach was groundbreaking. In an essay on Jamal, the great critic Stanley Crouch wrote, "Through the use of space and changes of rhythm and tempo, Jamal invented a group sound that had all the surprise and dynamic variation of an imaginatively imagined big band."

Though Jamal occasionally works with larger groups, string sections and orchestras, it is the jazz piano trio format that he revolutionized and continues to explore. As a birthday salute to one of the true masters of jazz, here are five selections from Ahmad Jamal's staggering and ever-expanding body of small-group work.

Get To Know Ahmad Jamal

Cover for Pavanne for Ahmad

Pavanne

  • Artist: Ahmad Jamal
  • Album: Pavanne for Ahmad

"Pavanne," with its simple and charming melody, is one of Jamal's earliest recordings and one of his most influential. The tempo of Jamal's arrangement makes the song almost jaunty, and the interplay with Ray Crawford (guitar) and Israel Crosby (bass) is precise yet loose. This recording inspired Miles Davis' composition "So What" and John Coltrane's "Impressions" — listen closely to "Pavanne" and you may be able to detect its influence on those two classic compositions. And remember that when Jamal was doing this, he was only in his early 20s.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Pavanne
Album
Pavanne for Ahmad
Artist
Ahmad Jamal
Label
FiveFour
Released
2006

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Cover for Complete Live at the Pershing Lounge 1958

Poinciana

  • Artist: Ahmad Jamal
  • Album: Complete Live at the Pershing Lounge 1958

In 1956, Jamal decided to replace the guitarist in his trio with a drummer. In 1958, Jamal, Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier recorded at a Chicago hotel what would become one of the most successful albums in the history of jazz: Live At the Pershing. An edited version of the eight-minute "Poinciana" you'll hear here became a hit record and was on jukeboxes and radio stations all over America. In "Poinciana," you can hear very clearly the lightness of Jamal's touch and his wonderful use of space — two of the many qualities of his music that Miles Davis prized and sought to emulate.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Poinciana [Live]
Album
Complete Live at the Pershing Lounge 1958
Artist
Ahmad Jamal
Label
Gambit
Released
2007

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Cover for Digital Works

One

  • Artist: Ahmad Jamal
  • Album: Digital Works

Though Jamal is closely associated with the classic jazz trio configuration of piano, acoustic bass and drums, he often adds a second percussionist to his work and will sometimes employ electric bass. He was also one of the first jazz musicians to make the move from analog to digital recording. CDs came on the market in 1982, and in 1985, Jamal released Digital Works on the format — basically a vehicle for revisiting and re-imagine some of his earlier work. "One" is a piece of music he's recorded a number of times. This version features drummer Herlin Riley, electric bassist Larry Ball and percussionist Iraj Lashkaryl.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
One
Album
Digital Works
Artist
Ahmad Jamal
Label
Rhino Atlantic
Released
1985

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Cover for Chicago Revisited: Live at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase

Blue Gardenia

  • Artist: Ahmad Jamal
  • Album: Chicago Revisited: Live at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase

Every good set of jazz tunes includes a ballad, and Jamal is a ballad master. Here he is in another live performance, this time from the 1980s. John Heard plays bass and Yoron Israel is the drummer.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Blue Gardenia
Album
Chicago Revisited: Live at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase
Artist
Ahmad Jamal
Label
Telarc Distribution
Released
2009

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Cover for Blue Moon: The New York Session

Autumn Rain

  • Artist: Ahmad Jamal
  • Album: Blue Moon: The New York Session

Blue Moon is Jamal's latest album, recorded when he was 81. One listen to "Autumn Rain" makes it abundantly clear that he is still in top form, more impressionistic and even more fearless than he was in the early days of his career. Ever evolving and always engaging, Jamal is a jazz icon who refuses to rest upon his laurels. He is accompanied here by Riley, bassist Reginald Veal and percussionist Manolo Badrena.

Blue Moon is available from Harmonia Mundi.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Autumn Rain
Album
Blue Moon: The New York Session
Artist
Ahmad Jamal
Label
Jazz Village
Released
2012

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.