The Kennedy Center

Ahmad Jamal



Biography

Ahmad Jamal is an astonishingly vital and creative artist—a storyteller, continually evolving, an uncompromising and uniquely original stylist. His influence on other artists is broad, beginning with such pianists as Red Garland, Cedar Walton and Benny Green and extending to Miles Davis. A native of Pittsburgh, Jamal was a member of the musician's union by the time he was 14 (he claimed to be 16 in order to join). His first teacher was Mary Caldwell Dawson, the noted African American concert singer. After graduating from high school in 1948, he joined George Hudson's popular touring orchestra. Early influences were Art Tatum, fellow Pittsburgher Erroll Garner, and the Nat Cole Trio. In 1949, he joined violinist Joe Kennedy's quartet The Four Strings and the next year formed the Three Strings (sans violin), playing long stints at Chicago's Blue Note and New York's Embers. He made his first recordings with The Three Strings on Columbia's Okeh Records In 1956 Jamal's new trio with drums became the house trio at Chicago's Pershing Hotel, and two years later the group recorded But Not For Me, which spent 108 weeks among the top ten best selling albums. Jamal soon built his own restaurant, The Alhambra, where he could perform with his trio, cutting down on his time on the road. In the late 1960s he performed and recorded the title tune by Johnny Mandel for the film soundtrack of the hit film M*A*S*H.  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 “If I Find You Again.” In 1994, Mr. Jamal received the American Jazz Masters award from the National Endowment for the Arts,and was named a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University. 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 The Essence features tenor saxophonist George Coleman and received two French recording awards. Ahmad Jamal a Paris was recorded live at Pleyel hall in Paris; his 70th birthday live concert recording The Essence Part III features Donald Byrd on the title track; and his CD Nature features Stanley Turrentine on “The Devil's In My Den,” with steel drummer Othello Molineaux. His piano transcriptions, The Ahmad Jamal Collection is in print. Mr. Jamal continues to record exclusively for the French Birdology label, and his albums are released on Verve and Atlantic in the United States.

“He has clothed the very avant-garde things he does with subtlety and a sound that entices the average jazz listener.” (Ralph J. Gleason, San Francisco Chronicle)

February 2003
Photo of Ahmad Jamal