Hi there, Hoddlers! I hope you’re doing well on this fine Tuesday.
Yesterday, I saw on the news that one of my favorite musicians passed away. Ahmad Jamal died peacefully at his home at the age of 92 of cancer. Jamal was one of the best jazz pianists few have ever heard of. His music is so under-appreciated today, but was incredibly influential to an entire generation of jazz musicians. And for jazz fans who are in the know, well they know about Jamal.
I’m a relatively latecomer to jazz — I only started seriously listening to jazz of the 1950s and ‘60s a couple of years ago. While I started with the classics — Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Thelonius Monk — the magic of algorithmic streaming services eventually steered me towards some artists further down the chain like like Dorothy Ashby, Milt Jackson, Oliver Nelson... and Ahmad Jamal.
The first Jamal track that turned my head was his rendition of “You Go To My Head,” played not slow and melancholy, but upbeat, almost jaunty. I knew the tune, but I’d never heard it played like THAT. What really impressed me wasn’t his technicality on the keys. He could play, obviously, but his musicality was a lot more nuanced and low-key. Much more Bill Evans than Oscar Peterson. In fact, Jamal’s master wasn’t in what he played, but the notes he DIDN’T play — he was masterful at using space in his performances as a means of emphasis, combined with tempo and timbre to create some stunning performances.
Jamal got a reputation in the Bebop era as a contrast to the virtuosic jazzers of the time, with some critics dismissing him as a “cocktail pianist.” But those who know, know — Jamal was a jazz man’s jazz man, hugely influential to some of the biggest names in the business. Miles Davis once said “All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal” and held him up as one of the greats of the age... high praise coming from Miles.
It’s not that Jamal was forgotten, far from it. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as being named a Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend. He was continually innovating, and captivating live, even late in his life. I now regret that I never learned about him in time to see him live.
I can’t help it, you’re getting two songs of the day. The first is one of the few videos of him playing when he was young, and the second is the song that made me fall in love with him.
Rest in peace, king.
Song of the Day: “Darn That Dream,” Ahmad Jamal Trio (1959)
Song of the Day 2: “You Go To My Head,” Ahmad Jamal (1961)
Here are your daily links.
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