In 1951, Mr. Jamal first recorded 'Ahmad's Blues' on Okeh
Records. His arrangement of the folk tune 'Billy Boy', and
'Poinciana' (not his original composition), also stem from
this period. In 1955, he recorded his first Argo (Chess)
Records album that included 'New Rhumba', 'Excerpts From
The Blues', 'Medley' (actually 'I Don't Want To Be Kissed'),
and 'It Ain't Necessarily So' —all later utilized by Miles Davis
and Gil Evans on the albums "Miles Ahead" and "Porgy and
Bess." In his autobiography, Mr. Davis praises Mr. Jamal's
special artistic qualities and cites his influence. In fact, the mid-to-late 1950's Miles Davis Quintet recordings notably feature material previously recorded by Mr. Jamal:
'Squeeze Me', 'It Could Happen To You', 'But Not For Me',
'Surrey With The Fringe On Top', 'Ahmad's Blues', 'On
Green Dolphin Street' and 'Billy Boy'.
In 1956, Mr. Jamal, who had already been joined by bassist
Israel Crosby in 1955, replaced guitarist Ray Crawford with
a drummer. Working as the "house trio" at Chicago's
Pershing Hotel drummer Vernell Fournier joined this trio in
1958 and Mr. Jamal made a live album for Argo Records
entitled "But Not For Me". The resulting hit single and album,
that also included 'Poinciana' — his rendition could be
considered his "signature". This album remained on the Ten
Best-selling charts for 108 weeks — unprecedented then for
a jazz album. This financial success enabled Mr. Jamal to
realize a dream, and he opened a restaurant/club, The
Alhambra, in Chicago. Here the Trio was able to perform
while limiting their touring schedule and Mr. Jamal was able
to do record production and community work.
Mr. Jamal was born on July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. A child prodigy who began to play the piano at
the age of 3, he began formal studies at age 7. While in high
school, he completed the equivalent of college master
classes under the noted African-American concert singer
and teacher Mary Caldwell Dawson and pianist James
Miller. He joined the musicians union at the age of 14, and
he began touring upon graduation from Westinghouse High
School at the age of 17, drawing critical acclaim for his
solos. In 1950, he formed his first trio, The Three Strings.
Performing at New York's The Embers club, Record
Producer John Hammond "discovered" The Three Strings
and signed them to Okeh Records (a division of Columbia,
now Sony Records).
Mr. Jamal has continued to record his outstanding original
arrangements of such standards as 'I Love You', 'A Time
For Love', 'On Green Dolphin Street' (well before Miles
Davis!), 'End of a Love Affair', to cite a few. Mr. Jamal's
own classic compositions begin with 'Ahmad's Blues' (first
recorded on October 25, 1951!), 'New Rhumba', 'Manhattan
Reflections', 'Tranquility', 'Extensions', 'The Awakening',
'Night Mist Blues' and most recently 'If I Find You Again',
among many others..
In 1994, Mr. Jamal received the American Jazz Masters
award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The same
year he was named a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale
University, where he performed commissioned works with
the Assai String Quartet. A CD is available of these works.
In 1970, Mr. Jamal performed the title tune by Johnny
Mandel for the soundtrack of the film "Mash!"; and in 1995,
two tracks from his hit album "But Not For Me" — 'Music,
Music, Music', and 'Poinciana' — were featured in the Clint
Eastwood film "The Bridges of Madison County".
Mr. Jamal's CD entitled "The Essence" features tenor
saxophonist George Coleman — Mr. Jamal's first recording
made with a horn! Critical acclaim and outstanding sales
resulted in two prestigious awards: D'jango D'or (critics) and
Cloch (for sales) in France. Its success generated a
concert at Salle Pleyel, and a CD has been released
"Ahmad Jamal a Paris" (1992) and a second "live" concert
by Mr. Jamal in l996 under the same title, unissued except in
France and available on the Dreyfus Records on the
Internet, Mr. Jamal rightly considers one of his best
recordings. Ahmad Jamal's 70th Birthday "live" concert
recording Olympia 2000, is known as "The Essence Part
III". "The Essence, Part II", featured Donald Byrd on the title track, and on his CD entitled "Nature", Stanley Turrentine is featured on 'The Devil's In My Den', and steel drummer Othello Molineaux augments the trio format. Continuing his recording career, Mr. Jamal released "In Search of" on CD, and his first DVD "Live In Baalbeck".
For students of the piano, Hal Leonard Publications has
published "The Ahmad Jamal Collection", a collection of
piano transcriptions. Mr. Jamal continues to record
exclusively for the French Birdology label, and his albums
are released on Verve and Atlantic in the United States.
Mr. Jamal is an exclusive Steinway piano artist.
Mr. Jamal's 'About My Life' story in his own words:
At three years of age, my wonderful Uncle Lawrence
stopped me while I was walking past the piano in my parents'
living room. He was playing the piano and challenged me to
duplicate what he was doing. Although I had never touched
this or any piano, I sat down and played note for note what I had heard. "The rest is history."
What a thrilling ride it has been and continues to be. I was
born in one of the most remarkable places in the world for
musicians and people in the arts - Pittsburgh, PA. At seven
years, I was selling newspapers to Billy Strayhorn's family.
Billy had already left home; I didn't get to meet him until
years later. Following is a partial listing of "Pittsburghers:"