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Interviews

Ahmad Jamal: Forward Momentum

By Published: July 6, 2010
AAJ: Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
b.1961
trumpet
has been described by Nat Hentoff
Nat Hentoff
Nat Hentoff
b.1925
as, and I quote—"the preeminent jazz educator of out times"—unquote; but his detractors accuse him of not moving with the times. Do you think that the Lincoln Center, with all the resources it has at its disposal, is right to largely ignore the modern jazz, or American classical music if you prefer, that is being made in America today, and I'm thinking of people like Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
b.1970
keyboard
, William Parker
William Parker
William Parker
b.1952
bass, acoustic
, Gerald Cleaver, Mathew Shipp, Greg Osby
Greg Osby
Greg Osby
b.1960
saxophone
to name just a few?

AJ: I have nothing but immense admiration for Wynton and what he's done so it's very difficult for me to have anything but positive feelings. I love Wynton and I love what he's done. He has been almost single handedly responsible for what we have showcasing American classical music properly in that building that they put up in New York City. That should happen all over the world. I just shake my head in admiration at what he's done. The negatives are so minuscule and unimportant, if any exist. What they have done there is nearly perfect.

AAJ: Ahmad, who excites you of the modern generation of musicians? Maybe in New York, for example.

AJ: There are a bunch of wonderful players. Who excites me? My listening habits are very varied. I listen to anything of great merit and great potential. It's very hard for me to name names. Not only am I interested or excited I am also interested in promoting the careers of some of these youngsters.

AAJ: On that note there was a letter of yours to the editor of JazzTimes in April, 2010, regarding misrepresentation of the facts regarding your role and your manager Laura Hess-Hay's role in helping launch the career of Hiromi
Hiromi
Hiromi
b.1979
piano
. For the record, would you mind explaining the story, please?

AJ: They published that letter? There are three entities that have been instrumental in fostering and helping Hiromi's career; the Yamaha Music Foundation comes first. The person who took her to Telarc records and exposed her, recording-wise, to the world was Laura Hess-Hay; she was very close to Bob Wood, the President at that time. Laura took her to Telarc records and I took her to the world by exposing her to the great, great people like George Wein
George Wein
George Wein
b.1925
piano
and Carlo Pagnotta at the Umbria, Perugia festival, and I told them: "I want you to listen to somebody." The rest is history. YMF, Laura, Hiromi and myself.

Hiromi knows what she wants to do and where she wants to go. She's got her head screwed on properly. My manager Laura Hess-Hay and myself are her co-managers, along with the Yamaha Music Foundation. Is that clear?

AAJ: Very. Thanks for clarifying that. These days you mostly play your own compositions but throughout your career you have interpreted a large and rather eclectic choice of songs, though with the exception of Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
b.1950
keyboard
's "Superstition," you haven't generally been drawn to songs from the modern popular musical cannon; are there no songs from say, the last twenty years, that you are tempted to interpret and record?

AJ: I did one thing by The Beatles
The Beatles
The Beatles

band/orchestra
at a particular period of my career; I did "Michelle." I'm not saying it's ever going to happen again, but I'm too busy composing myself now. I'm in the Ahmad Jamal composing mode; I do eighty percent Jamal and twenty percent other stuff.

AAJ: On A Quiet Time you sound remarkably athletic and energetic; how much time do you spend on the piano every day to maintain that condition, if I can call it that?

AJ: Not enough. I try to look at my pianos every day but the discipline of practicing a certain number of hours a day, I've lost that. I do subscribe to quality, not quantity. Muhammad Ali said, years ago, that he was tired of jogging to stay in shape. You can practice eight hours and get nothing or you can practice fifteen minutes and get a world of accomplishment. You have to enjoy what you're doing.

AAJ: When you practice are you always thinking compositionally or do you practice to stay in good shape?

AJ: I can't separate the two. When I play a scale I still think compositionally, when I think of composition I think of execution. I can't separate the two.

AAJ: The title of one of your albums, Outertimeinnerspace (Impulse!, 1972), could almost be your epitaph; rhythm and space have been constants of your music from the very beginning. Would you say that these two things are the most important ingredients of your music?

AJ: Other people call it space, I've never called it space. I call it discipline. There has to be discipline within music. It's also important what you don't hear. You know, Maurice Ravel has a rest here and there. There has to be a period of silence where the timpani player lays out, or the strings lay out; that's what we call rest or pause. You have to have stops and goes and that is what I have engaged in all my life. If it's go-go-go all the time with no discipline then it ain't gonna happen.


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