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Ahmad Jamal: Forward Momentum

By Published: July 6, 2010
AAJ: On A Quiet Time you record pianist Randy Weston
Randy Weston
Randy Weston
's "Hi-Fly." Your mutual admiration for each other is well-known, but just how significant a composer do you think Weston is?

AJ: He's one of the most underrated composers and orchestrators, especially composer. His son worked with me for a long time, the late Azzedin Weston, who was one of the great percussionists of all time. I don't use the adjective greatest because there's no such thing as greatest. That's a mistake that we make, we use this term too loosely. But Randy is one of the great composers. I ran into Randy in Morocco years ago when he had his club there. "Hi-Fly" is one of my favorite compositions and I was tempted to record it many, many times but I never liked the result, but this time I released it.

AAJ: One of your most celebrated small ensembles was the one with Vernell Fournier and Israel Crosby, which is still talked about today and with good reason, but the formation of much of the last two decades with Idris Muhammad and James Cammack must rate pretty highly by comparison in your own mind, no?

AJ: Different; different but good [laughs]. The combination of Israel and Vernell, I was too young to fully appreciate what I had. I was not mature enough. I was busy trying to get work, trying to do this, trying to do that; now I know what I had. Other people certainly have appreciated it including Mosaic Records who are putting out a whole volume of the early recordings. They've been trying to get me to approve a release of the historic years with Fournier and Israel Crosby for years. Kenny Washington has done the liner notes for that. There are all these awful pirate, unauthorized recordings coming out, so Mosaic and Michael Cuscuna
Michael Cuscuna
Michael Cuscuna
are trying to offset some of this trash is out there which is unreleased and I don't get paid for. It goes on and on.

That's one of the pitfalls of the record business and that's why that's we have no record business now, because of the inability of the record companies to control this plagiarism. There's a little spot between Spain and France and it's replete with this kind of nonsense—it's just criminal. Mosaic wants to offset this nonsense by doing the right thing and paying me for it. They've been after me for eight years to release recordings focusing on the Fournier, Crosby years and I've finally conceded.

AAJ: That's great news for music lovers. Why did you resist Mosaic's offer for eight years?

AJ: As I said before I resist going into the studio period. Even at my commercial peak, when I had a million seller when Leonard Chess and I produced At the Pershing, that historic release 628, they wanted me to go into the studio three or four times a year, but I wouldn't do it. I don't go into the studio until I feel confident and ready. I don't release things just for the sake of releasing them; they have to be logically sound. They have to have some rationale that appeals to me.

AAJ: Coming back to Muhammad and Cammack, some would say that they form one of the great rhythm sections of modern times, would you agree with that?

AJ: Oh, Idris is known as one of the great players of all time and James has only been with me for 27 years, so that says something right there, doesn't it?

AAJ: Absolutely. Cammack's playing on A Quiet Time is so beautiful that it warrants listening to all by itself. All of your ensembles over the years have been characterized by a very democratic approach to playing where every musician expresses themselves fully; was this something that you learned from a significant teacher or is it an innate sensibility on your part?

AJ: Well, all Pittsburghers are singularly different. No-one writes like Billy Strayhorn, no-one approaches the guitar like George Benson, no drummer plays like Art Blakey
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
, no bassist plays like Ray Brown [laughs], no-one sings like Billy Eckstine, no-one approaches the piano like Errol Garner... so all of us are different. It's a phenomenon like New Orleans [laughs]. We make different statements that echo around the world.

AAJ: Returning to A Quiet Time, could you explain what's behind the title of "After Jazz at Lincoln Center"?

AJ: "After Jazz at Lincoln Centre"? A lot of people ask me that. That was a composition inspired after I opened the 2008 season with one of the great orchestras of all time I must say. I thoroughly enjoyed performing there and the composition was inspired by that. I'm still working on it.

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