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JSngry

Ahmad Jamal, Vindicated

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Hm. I think Jarrett's version of Poinciana is rather good.

In fact I see it is on youtube (no video):

So how would people who love Jamal's trios compare them to others which haven't yet been dissed, such as Bill Evans'?

Edited by David Ayers

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I'm surprised there's so much anti-Jamal feeling here. Visceral distate like Allen's is more understandable than the critiques I've seen so far...

Especially when so many people have and will again jerked off twinkletoes like Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan, or can abide Oscar Peterson in any way but getting to Lester or Ben. Or fucking Jarrett and all his standards crap-- worst records DeJohnette ever made and who sucked out Peacock's brain? At least Eicher puts the money back into the label to real hot shit like Roscoe and Frank Martin (New Series).

Jamal consistently challenges both the fingersnappers and the phony 'progressives'-- but then I'll defend nearly all John Lewis too; he probably shouldn't been so nice to Gary Giddins but it mighta seemed politic at the time.

Jamal Means Unconquered!

Comrade!!! You've obviously been hipped to Jakob Nielsen!!! It is a lovely style, no??? ;):rolleyes:

Edited by The Red Menace

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Regarding Jamal's famous use of space, would it be wrong to give a small nod of potential influence in Claude Thornhill's piano-playing direction?

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allright, so at 6 AM this morning I'm driving to work, and the local alt. radio station announces that it's time for:

AHMAD JAMAL.

Now normally I would switch the dial to either the smooth jazz or the hat act channel, but I figure, ok, let's give a listen, what's the worst that can happen? Maybe I've been missing something all these years. So play away, I'm Mud.

so I let it go, twisting my Saab through the morning traffic in the demented little city I live in, listening through the little speakers.

and I gotta say -

I STILL THINK IT'S CRAP. There is NOTHING there, just useless space, mannerism, gimmick, crap crap crap.

Even Brubeck, when he wants to, actually knows how to play, but Jamal is one of those rank amateurs who has decided he can substitute motion for action and get away with it.

so, I guess I took one for the team, because I'm still traumatized by how lousy his playing was.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Wow. Well, I can't agree. I hear a LOT in Jamal's playing through the decades.

I think he found a way to be unique, to have his own sound and conception. I totally admire musicians like that. For me, he's one of the greats.

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Wow. Well, I can't agree. I hear a LOT in Jamal's playing through the decades.

I think he found a way to be unique, to have his own sound and conception. I totally admire musicians like that. For me, he's one of the greats.

I'm with Lon on this one.

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Trifecta.

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I guess it's me and Martin Williams against the world......................

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allright, Doc, I have this recurring dream...it's 1959 and I'm at a little jazz club and this gorgeous woman is staring at me with this "come hither" look and I'm a little confused (after all I'm only 5 years old) and Ahmad Jamal is in the middle of his set and he's been playing the intro to Poinicana for 4 hours and suddenly she says to me "you come here often?" and I say "not since the night they busted the whorehouse upstair" and she says "wow, I like a guy who knows how to sell a girl into white slavery" and Jamal starts playing the "Theme" and suddenly he drops his pants and Miles pops out and this girl says to me "let's get outta here" and we're headed for the door when Jamal goes into the chorus of "But Not For Me" and suddenly both his hands are chopped off by an intruder and the blood starts to cover the piano and I say to her "hold it honey this is the part I've been waiting for." And then I wake up.

anybody know what this means?

Edited by AllenLowe

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Maybe I'm in a third place. By no means is Jamal's music IMO dismissible as "useless space, mannerism, gimmick ... crap," and I sure have to take account of how other talented pianists (in particular) feel about him (IIRC Hal Galper wrote in some detail about the specific pianistic/harmonic things Jamal did that guys tried to pick up on). But against that there's the fact (which may just say something about me) that not that many Jamal performances hold my attention after a while. I think I get the set-up and feel the subtle, sly shifts and variations, but eventually I begin to zone out. And normally, I think I'm in the top 10 per cent when it comes to paying attention to music, and of a whole lot of different styles.

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well, true, the set up is everything because I just hear nothing afterwards - when I listen to it I want to walk up to the piano, grab his hands and say, "we get the idea, Ahmad, now it's time to play." Same response I have to Brubeck.

with someone like Monk, for example (and Basie, like I mentioned before) the little fragments have purpose, a design, no matter how abstract it might be. Jamal is really, to my way of thinking, a charlatan.

the thing about other pianists is interesting - reminds me of something Mailer once wrote about bad art influencing good art - Mailer was talking about Warhol's films and their effect on the new cinema in the stretching of reality and the use of alternate approaches to time and boredom. Maybe there's an apt comparison here.

Edited by AllenLowe

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interesting - see my reference to Mailer, above.

(and remember that Bill Evans was also a major admirer of Oscar Peterson)

look, part of the problem may be the instrument - in the way that many guitar players admire other guitar players who can do things they know to be technically difficult, because they understand the difficulty (as with Yngwie). I see the same thing with saxophonists,too. Actually with a LOT of jazz musicians, who can be very mediocre critics. Sometimes we musicians miss the forest for the trees.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Some of Hal Galper's views expressed here:

http://www.halgalper.com/18_interviews/ahmadinterview.htm

That's what I was thinking of, but IIRC he went into more detail somewhere. But then my memory is full of gaping holes and imaginings.

I'm sure he has, though I can't put my finger on it this instant. Did find this bit in an interview from some years ago:

L: Do you listen much to the piano masters?

HG: I don’t listen to much of anything anymore. When I do, I listen to Ahmad Jamal. Lately I’ve been very into him. I heard him four nights out of six at Fat Tuesdays. I was stunned. You can’t put your finger on what he’s doing; he’s very subtle. You get the feeling he’s playing everything and nothing. You’re not quite sure what you heard or what he did.

Edited by Mark Stryker

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Haven’t weighed in on Jamal until now, but for what it’s worth, here’s my view: Jamal is a genius both as a conceptualist and a pianist, yet there are also elements, specifically linear melodic improvisation, that he doesn’t provide at the level of invention that I prefer. To be clear, I am inspired and moved by Jamal’s best work and I think his influence on the wider sound of jazz is as indisputable as it is profound – very few musicians in jazz have put their stamp not only their instrument but wider aesthetic currents. Jamal is in that camp. Still, though I think it’s a mistake to expect him to roar through a standard like Barry Harris – that’s not what he’s about – I still wish the improvisations cut deeper. That’s my taste.

I agree with Allen viz. Mailer that bad art can influence great art, but the idea that Jamal represents charlatanism is ridiculous. This topic reminds me a bit of my definition of a wine connoisseur – someone who can say, “That’s an excellent wine; I hate it.” One can hold serious reservations and one can certainly hate Jamal, but to deny him every shred of his artistic integrity, which is what you do when you call him a charlatan, is to wholly substitute personal taste for reasoned analysis. Which is not to say that it’s not a function of criticism to cry “fraud” when it appears – it is absolutely – and, of course, there are always going to be disagreements about who is and who is not a phony and, crucially, which criteria has the greatest bearing in how and why we make that determination. But Jamal as charlatan? I just don’t see how you can defend that position either based on an objective reading of the history or a prima facie hearing of the music.

I’ve written about Jamal a few times, and my views are still evolving. But here are some excerpts. Please excuse the repetition of some pet phrases (we all have our licks):

About the new box set:

Few revolutionaries have made music so friendly. Jamal drew blood with quietly swinging interpretations of standards, his arrangements and improvisations based on melodic and rhythmic catchphrases rather than complex linear inventions. His breakthrough 1958 LP "At the Pershing: But Not for Me," powered by the hit "Poinciana," spent two years on the Billboard charts. But Jamal has always been a wolf in sheep's clothing. He's a conceptualist, whose aesthetic is based on the art of surprise and the play of tension-and-release. His main tools include dynamics, dramatic silence, texture, riffs, melodic paraphrase and a subtle recasting of form through introductions, vamps, tags, key changes and rhythmic contrasts. Jamal's classic trio with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier redefined jazz from the inside out.

About a 2006 live performance:

Nearly 50 years after he first became a sensation in jazz, pianist Ahmad Jamal still has a reputation as a jazz minimalist, vamping till the cows come home, leaving gaping holes of silence in his music and plinking melodies played so high up on the keyboard and so softly that it almost sounds as if the music is evaporating right in front of you. But Jamal, a conceptualist who influenced Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett and countless others, is also a maximalist.

Jamal, whose trio closed out Sunday night's performances at the Detroit International Jazz Festival at Hart Plaza's amphitheatre, pivoted incessantly between whispered transparencies and dense explosions of chords, muscularly thumped bass notes and gyrating, almost chaotic densities all over the keyboard that clouded into obscurity the grooves dug by bassist James Cammack and drummer Idris Muhammad. Suddenly, as if flipping off a light switch, Jamal wiped away the debris and the groove reappeared from the rubble. He then rode the beat with some slyly humorous riffing before building to his next barrage.

This play of tension and release is Jamal's idee fixe. Every tune Sunday followed a similar formula, from the opening standard, "Time On My Hands," to revivals of his early hits "Poinciana" and "But Not For Me," to simple originals based on nothing more than oscillating intervals and a series of repeating bass ostinatos. The rhythms were generally based on swing or a kind of swampy shuffle that drummer Vernel Fournier invented with Jamal in the '50s and that Muhammad updated with a slightly funky twist.

Still, while you know what's going to happen in Jamal's music, you never know when it's going to happen. Jamal, who controls every move his ensemble makes like an auteur, keeps his listeners (and his sidemen) guessing. The emotion in his music comes from surprise. His encore Sunday had so many false endings the music warped into surrealism.

Jamal's music is easy to understand but it remains downright mutinous in its absence of melody. He has essentially replaced the linear melodic improvising that governs nearly all jazz with an aesthetic based entirely on dynamics, dramatic silence, theatrical surprise, texture, contrast and riffs. The music can be tedious, self-conscious and excessively splashy, and there were times Sunday when I longed to hear the music ascend to a higher plane of melodic and harmonic development and improvisation. Call me old fashioned. But nobody jogs in place so profoundly as Jamal.

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I'm stumped and mystified. Dazed and confused.

I hear what's supposed to be there and I hear what he's trying to do. But, to quote someone else, "there's no there there."

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Beautiful and vivid description of Jamal's playing, Mark--thanks for posting it.

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Maybe I'm in a third place. By no means is Jamal's music IMO dismissible as "useless space, mannerism, gimmick ... crap," and I sure have to take account of how other talented pianists (in particular) feel about him (IIRC Hal Galper wrote in some detail about the specific pianistic/harmonic things Jamal did that guys tried to pick up on). But against that there's the fact (which may just say something about me) that not that many Jamal performances hold my attention after a while. I think I get the set-up and feel the subtle, sly shifts and variations, but eventually I begin to zone out. And normally, I think I'm in the top 10 per cent when it comes to paying attention to music, and of a whole lot of different styles.

A (relatively) little goes a one way for me too, but....that little lingers on and takes on a life of its own...the substance and its implications don't need a large exposure/ingestion for them to work on me.

I really, really think that one either "gets" it on its own terms or else...doesn't. Definitely one of those "it is what it is" things, and what it is definitely not is creating a typical "jazz environment" for "soloing", hell, that's the last thing that's going on there...

I think I most enjoy Jamal's work in terms of a masterful arranger spontaneously tweaking the same chart every time its played, year after year. Obviously, you can't do that with an orchestra (unless you're Gil Evans and let people not play the parts, or encourage them to make up their own when they feel like it), but you can with a piano trio. And equally obviously, to me anyway, it takes discipline, focus, vision, and a helluva lot of pianistic and theoretical skills to do that in the way that Jamal does it.

Edited by JSngry

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I like Cage's excellent critical article, "4-1/2 pages."

Actually it would be 4 1/3 pages.

Pretty sure Braxton would not be comfortable being called a critic.

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I still don't like it

spinach.jpg

Edited by AllenLowe

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To me the main difference between Jamal and most other pianists is that his treatments of tunes are largely different from the way others treat them, and from the way he treats other tunes he plays - at least it was like that with Crosby and Fournier, and that's what inspired me much more than the rather unified way of running licks over changes which happens so often with other pianists. When Jarrett plays standards, they all sound the same to me after the theme is stated - that rarely happens with Jamal.  I'm tired of lick-oriented players. Jamal has his pet licks, too, but somehow they never sound obtrusive or repetitive to me. 

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Not a Jamal fan . Vastly overrated methinks. The guy has been riding the meal ticket Miles Davis handed him in his comments about Jamal's use of space, etc etc. To adapt a phrase from Gertrude Stein, "There's no there, there."

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