StLJN Saturday Video Showcase: Spotlight on Ahmad Jamal


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This week, let's check out some videos featuring pianist Ahmad Jamal, who will be performing Saturday, March 30 at the annual benefit gala for the Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries.

Jamal, who's now 88 years old and plays only a select number of dates per year, is a native of Pittsburgh who began his musical career in the late 1940s, reaching international stardom a decade later with the release of his album Live at the Pershing. Recorded at a Chicago hotel lounge where Jamal had a house-band gig, the album featured a version of what would become his signature song, “Poinciana," and stayed on the charts for more than two years.

Jamal's sparing approach, making ample use of long vamps and space within the music, caused some to deride him at the time as a mere “cocktail pianist," but he also made many fans, including Miles Davis, who praised Jamal's “concept of space, his lightness of touch, his understatement."

And as we now know, history would seem to have proven the naysayers wrong, as Jamal has enjoyed continued influence and popularity to this day and has earned many honors around the world, including being named an NEA Jazz Master in 1994, entering DownBeat's Hall of Fame in 2011, and winning a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

You can see and hear Jamal perform “Poinciana" in the first video up above, recorded in 2012 at the Olympia in Paris with bassist James Cammack, percussionist Manolo Badrena, and drummer Herlin Riley.

After the jump. you can see how Jamal applies his distinctive approach to the familiar standard “Autumn Leaves," as performed in 2017 in Paris with the same band.

That's followed by a version of “Blue Moon," recorded in 2014 at the Jazz in Marciac festival in France, with Riley, Badrena, and Reginald Veal on bass, and then a performance of Jamal's own “Autumn Rain" with the same musicians at the 2012 Les Nuits D'Istres festival in France.

The last two videos go quite a bit farther back, providing an opportunity to see how Jamal's style has evolved over time. The fifth video documents a full set by Jamal in 1999 at a festival in Germany, while the sixth and final clip is from 1971, when Jamal was the featured performer in an episode of the French TV program Jazz Session.

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