The Venerable Ahmad Jamal
Jamal: One thing I pray for: not to be concerned with what people say about my work. Because I know what my work is. I'm the best critic of my work. I'm not overly concerned with the good, bad and indifferent. If you get caught up in people, you've got a problem. You've got a big, big problem if you get caught up in what people say. If you're gonna live for what people say, you might as well lay down and forget it. Because it doesn't work that way. You have to be involved in yourself. The quickest way to become troubled is to be concerned with what people are gonna say about your life and your work.
If you strike a great chord, and people are communicating with you, and you can get along, then that's wonderful.
I'm concerned, first of all, with accurate analysis. And many times analysis is not accurate when you are critiqued by someone not in the business. I can't critique an appendectomy. A doctor can, but I can't. I can critique thoracic surgery. I want to be around people who are genuinely sincere in their approach to reporting. I don't want propaganda reporting, or parody. You gonna imitate what Leonard Feather said or Ralph Gleason said or Nat Hentoff? Be yourself. One has to be careful about this critiquing and the values placed on things.
AAJ: What about longevity? You've been at this so long and consistent and popular and praised. Is that satisfying to you?
Jamal: I'm just beginning. Every day is a new beginning. I'm just beginning to write. I'm just beginning to do a lot of things.
AAJ: You're still working on your playing, trying to get it where you want to go?
Jamal: I love the role of a scholar. I would like to be a scholar in whatever I do. A scholar is never finished. He's always seeking. I'm seeking.
AAJ: How do you like the newest CD that's out?
Jamal: It's full of energy. I love things that are full of energy. There's a lot of energy and a lot of good things going on. George (Coleman) is playing superbly. I think the world is going to know a little bit more ' they know about George Coleman, but I think the world is going to know a little bit more about George as a result of the release of this CD. He plays superbly. That was the result of a five-week tour. We did Grenada, Spain. And most of them were sold out. There wasn't a seat left at Salle Pleyel.
AAJ: The Sal Playel music will be released maybe next year?
Jamal: Yeah. That's probably going to be released in a compilation, because I didn't release it in the United States. It's also wonderful, wonderful piece of music. I like it. A lot of good solos on it. It's a nice piece of music.
AAJ: What else is on the horizon?
Jamal: Playing a week with a gentleman of the bass, Keter Betts, sharing the bill after 20 or 22 years at Blues Alley in Washington, DC. Dec. 26 to January 31. I'll be going down there to do my annual gig. Then I'm going to Symphony Hall in Chicago. Then a European tour again. Many, many interesting things. Working on the next record, perhaps. Having a lot of fun and enjoying life.
AAJ: Of all the years you've had in the business and all the things you've been through, what would you tell some of the younger ones out there? Any words of advice?
Jamal: The best advice I can give anyone is prepare yourself with options. Well how do we do that, Mr. Jamal? You go and get knowledge. And you learn all the things that you can, so if one area breaks down, you don't get frustrated. In other words, if a fire breaks out, you don't get trampled to death because you only have one exit door. Well how do you do that, Mr. Jamal? You go to school. Prepare yourself for options. If you want to be a performer, see how that breaks down and you learn how to conduct. So you conduct for a while. If you can't find a role in conducting and you've prepared yourself to teach, you can teach for a while. And if you can't find a job in teaching or orchestration, you can write for a while. If you have these options, you can be places because you want to be, not because you have to be. That's the best advice I can give to any young person. Prepare yourself so you have options. So you're not locked in and can't get out.
AAJ: How would they find soul in their playing, and in life? Is there a secret to that?
Jamal: Live according to the best rules. That's how you find soul. Otherwise you're not going to find soul. You have to live according to the rules. You've gotta observe some of the rules, if not all. The more rules you observe in this life, the more soul you're gonna get.
AAJ: And will that come out in the playing?