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Ahmad Jamal

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Who is Ahmad Jamal?  He has been a fairly mysterious musician to me.  I may have heard one record, and I don't recall it at all.  It's been said by some that he was a minor musician who briefly became a major influence on one of jazz's greatest musicians: Miles Davis.  I've known Jamal mainly through the song "Ahmad's Blues," played by Miles' rhythm section.

But there are others who claim that Jamal is a major figure in jazz.  I think he is worth exploring.  I've listened to some piece from the "Essence" records in the 1990's.  They are intriguing in part because of the presence of guests like George Coleman and Donald Byrd, as well as the drumming of Idris Muhammad.   

I guess I know little about Jamal because he was never a sideman and he's recorded for small labels (except Impulse, quite briefly) all his life.

 

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9 minutes ago, Milestones said:

Who is Ahmad Jamal?  He has been a fairly mysterious musician to me.  I may have heard one record, and I don't recall it at all.  It's been said by some that he was a minor musician who briefly became a major influence on one of jazz's greatest musicians: Miles Davis.  I've known Jamal mainly through the song "Ahmad's Blues," played by Miles' rhythm section.

But there are others who claim that Jamal is a major figure in jazz.  I think he is worth exploring.  I've listened to some piece from the "Essence" records in the 1990's.  They are intriguing in part because of the presence of guests like George Coleman and Donald Byrd, as well as the drumming of Idris Muhammad.   

I guess I know little about Jamal because he was never a sideman and he's recorded for small labels (except Impulse, quite briefly) all his life.

 

His LPs were everywhere for short dough in the 1990s. 

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Posted (edited)

I never noticed his stuff in the record stores, but then too I wasn't looking.

I have observed that his CDs on Amazon tend to be quite expensive.

Edited by Milestones

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I believe he's more important than you think. Worth exploring.

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His arrangement of "Poinciana" was quite popular in certain circles for a while. 

I believe that many of his masters were lost in the Universal fire. 

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Posted (edited)

When piano trios were popular, I think Ahmad Jamal filled a void between the more commercial trios like the Three Sounds, Ramsey Lewis, and the more "artsy" trios such as Bill Evans.

Feel free to push back on that assessment if I am mistaken. 

Poinciana:

 

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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He's a major jazz musician, not a minor one. The place to start is the Mosaic set, or to put your toe in the water first, Cross-Country Tour.

He's also still alive and producing excellent recordings at an advanced age (currently 89). For example, Ballades (solo and duo) from 2019 and Marseille from 2016.

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He's neither major nor minor, he doesn't fill a gap nor does he operate in a void. He is his own self-contained  thing, and he may or may not be "jazz". I'm kinda like, who cares,is it music? is it ideas? Is it original? Does it have both style and substance?

For all of those questions, Jamal comes up as a "yes" to me way more often than not. The only one on which I cede a variable is substance, because the guy was not above making records that met the market more than halfway. But usually, it was the other way around, he did what he did and the market dug it.

This is not even 2:30 long and there's enough ideas in there to make a whole record for any number of people.

 

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I get the same feeling from Jamal's playing that I get from Brubeck (though I hear far more possibilities in Jamal). I keep saying to myself "when is the music gonna start?" It's like he's got one foot nailed to the floor and he keeps walking in circles.

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Just now, AllenLowe said:

I get the same feeling from Jamal's playing that I get from Brubeck (though I hear far more possibilities in Jamal). I keep saying to myself "when is the music gonna start?" It's like he's got one foot nailed to the floor and he keeps walking in circles.

Hey, the earth keeps orbiting the sun. Pretty predictable in that way, but how else could it be? It's Earth, Earth gotta Earth, right?

With him, I feel like the music is what's happening not in what he plays, but what's happening by what he plays.

Definitely not a "traditional" way to approach the notion of "jazz", so he may or may not be that. I just like what happens as a result of him doing what he does, the architecture and the shape of  the performance tends to please me.

I also think he's one of those players that you can not listen too casually or too deeply too. He's elusive that way. But you know how you can walk into a room and it feels good and inviting in a way that you can't put your finger on except by noting its absence when it's not there? That's how a lot of Jamal strikes me, as creating a good room for that song to be in for as long as it's time to be in that room.

And when it's time to leave, hey, get he hell out! :g

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well, I hope so, because his playing drives me nuts. It's like watching someone paint, but not a picture, just a wall.

Though I am running out of metaphors.

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1 hour ago, jlhoots said:

I believe he's more important than you think. Worth exploring.

 

1 hour ago, kh1958 said:

He's a major jazz musician, not a minor one. The place to start is the Mosaic set, or to put your toe in the water first, Cross-Country Tour.

He's also still alive and producing excellent recordings at an advanced age (currently 89). For example, Ballades (solo and duo) from 2019 and Marseille from 2016.

To me, a VERY major figure.

Not to say I like everything he does, but I celebrate his style. Very idiosyncratic. Instantly recognizable from the beginning that it is Jamal playing.

LWayne

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Posted (edited)

I’m not steeped in Jamal’s output - I only have the 3 of his 4 Impulse albums specifically from 1970-71 (incl. The Awakening) - and back in college I had the ubiquitous Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival (1985).

Jamal reminds me a bit of my experiences with Medeski Martin & Wood over the years, and also GoGo Penguin more recently - both groups I “mostly like” - a LOT  even! - but don’t quite “love” (but maybe close sometimes, or occasionally)...

There are ASPECTS of Jamal’s concept that I really LOVE - the same with MMW & GoGo Pengy - and yet, there’s something missing with all of them (for me). I can only spin about an album’s worth of any of them before usually needing to move on.

Those “aspects” are quite interesting (even compelling!), but the overall effect isn’t as interesting as the most interesting aspects are.

I’m fine with music that’s kind of amorphous - witness Andrew Hill (who you all know I love), but then Hill is also a lot more cacophonous too (than Jamal especially).

Still, I’m glad for another somewhat non-traditional piano voice to choose from, and I find it interesting that he achieved as much popularity as he seemed to, and for SO long.

Edited by Rooster_Ties

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Posted (edited)

He sold a boatload of albums for Argo (a Chess subsidiary) in the late 50's.  His "But Not For Me/Live at the Pershing" album went to #3 on the pop LP charts in 1958 and charted for over two years.    That's the one with "Ponciana" on it. "Poinciana" remains a very satisfying listen 60 years on.  Overall, I find his late 60's/early 70's albums on Impulse! to be the ones I like best, followed by the albums he made for Atlantic in the mid 80's.  In both those periods, he played with a more forceful style than in his 50's heyday.   His place in the jazz pantheon is basically according to your tastes.     He's not Bud Powell, Bill Evans, or McCoy Tyner, but has had a long and distinguished career largely on his own terms.  I have a lot of respect for him.    He's not easy to compare to other players, as he has his own "thing" and has reached a large audience outside of our types at times.

Edited by felser

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The first trio had Ray Crawford & Israel Crosby. THAT was an interesting sound.

The second trio had Israel Crosby & Vernell Fournier. THAT was an interesting sound.

Those are not insubstantial players, and what they contribute to the records they're on rewards the closest of attention (and perhaps reveals Jamal's trio architecture most fully, and although all great piano trios are about architecture (and will have their own), Jamal makes the group architecture the whole of what he does more than pretty much anybody. He's not gooing to hand you q big gaudy mansion, he's going to hand you a blueprint and let you take it from there...and oh by the way, there are a LOT of details there, so don't get lazy about it.

I like the trio with Jamil Sulieman and Frank Gant a lot also. As far as Jamal;'s own playing, I like it better with them, and that too was an interesting sound.

He's never had slouchy bands, ever, and listening to them over the years, there's a helluva lot more improvisation going on than you might think. But it's a different kind of improvisation, it's not "blowing", it's improvisation on/with the architecture. Those motherfuckers work. for such (perhaps) seemingly "light" music, those motherfuckers work.

Bottom (pun not really intended) line, though - Israel Crosby. Jesus, man, Israel Crosby. Israel Crosby did not fuck around, so...you build the house from the foundation, up, right? Not the other way around.

So, hey.

 

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32 minutes ago, JSngry said:

The first trio had Ray Crawford & Israel Crosby. THAT was an interesting sound.

 

Yes but  Ray Crawford afterwards is even more interesting. 

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I think we've done this before, but IMHO the trio with Crosby and Fournier was major, both in its influence and its inate goodness; but the musical and social context they existed in doesn't exist anymore so that may be hard to hear for folks coming at it backwards.  It is about arrangements not blowing.  They create their own space in the landscape of the times.  The Sounds and early (Young/Holt) Ramsey Lewis seem blatantly derivative, but in a good way.  Quintessential Piano Trio, not just as an instrumentation but as genre.  Nothing else he's done that I've heard engaged me at all.  But that band had it going on.  YMMV.

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1 hour ago, medjuck said:

Yes but  Ray Crawford afterwards is even more interesting. 

Ray was always interesting. And a nice guy. I had some personal experiences with him for a year or two.

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9 hours ago, Chuck Nessa said:

Ray was always interesting. And a nice guy. I had some personal experiences with him for a year or two.

Initially feeling much the same way Allen does, I changed my mind after listening to most of the Mosaic box -- in part because my late friend drummer Doug Mitchell pointed out just what Fournier and Crosby were up to throughout. Sorry Martin W.

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Posted (edited)

16 hours ago, JSngry said:

He's neither major nor minor, he doesn't fill a gap nor does he operate in a void. He is his own self-contained  thing, and he may or may not be "jazz". 

Says the silverback gorilla.

Sometimes, I find Ramsey Lewis's music too hot.

And sometimes, I find Bill Evans's music too cold.

And at those times, I find Ahmad Jamal's music, in a Baby Bear way, just right. 

So Ahmad Jamal does fill a void for this Baby Bear.

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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Whatever voids you find Ahmad Jamal being in, I can assure you that their existence is entirely of your making, not his.

2 hours ago, Larry Kart said:

 ...just what Fournier and Crosby were up to throughout.

yeah, and it's a lot, actually.

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12 hours ago, Chuck Nessa said:

Ray was always interesting. And a nice guy. I had some personal experiences with him for a year or two.

Wow. Were you trying to make a record with him?  He made too few. 

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I think it was hiring Crawford for that Jimmy Smith jam session set at the Chicago Jazz Festival some years back. Chuck was/is a fount of great ideas, and this was one of them.

Yup. A dream lineup:

Jimmy Smith Jam Session 
Chicago Jazz Festival 
Chicago, IL (USA)
September 5, 1981 [Saturday]

Bill Hardman - trumpet
Lou Donaldson - alto sax
Junior Cook - tenor sax
Jimmy Smith - organ
Ray Crawford - guitar
Kenny Dixon - drums
 

BTW, Kenny Washington's booklet essay for the Mosaic Jamal set also goes into great loving detail about what Crosby and Fourner are doing.

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Posted (edited)

Ray stayed on in Chicago for a few months - don't remember details now.

BTW the drummer was supposed to be Blakey but he withdrew to tour Japan and Jimmy brought his regular guy.

Edited by Chuck Nessa

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