A native of Pittsburgh, pianist Ahmad Jamal drew inspiration from fellow Pittsburgh native Erroll Garner along with piano greats Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Count Basie, and Nat King Cole. He gained his first professional bandstand experience in 1948 wi… Read more
A native of Pittsburgh, pianist Ahmad Jamal drew inspiration from fellow Pittsburgh native Erroll Garner along with piano greats Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Count Basie, and Nat King Cole. He gained his first professional bandstand experience in 1948 with George Hudson's orchestra and later joined swing violinist Joe Kennedy's group the Four Strings. After forming his own first group in 1950 with bassist Eddie Calhoun and guitarist Ray Crawford, he was signed the following year to the Okeh label by renowned talent scout and producer John Hammond (who had previously bolstered the careers of Count Basie and Charlie Christian).
In 1955, the newly formed Ahmad Jamal Trio (with Israel Crosby replacing bassist Calhoun) recorded two albums for Okeh before switching over to the Chess label's jazz subsidiary, Argo. They debuted with the innovative Chamber Music of the New Jazz, which greatly influenced both Miles Davis and Gil Evans. In 1956, Jamal replaced guitarist Crawford with a drummer, Walter Perkins, who was in turn replaced in 1958 by New Orleans native Vernell Fournier, thus cementing the classic Ahmad Jamal Trio lineup. The group took up residency in the lounge of the Pershing Hotel in Chicago, where its performances became a magnet for other musicians in town. A live album recorded there, Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me, became a crossover hit in 1958 and introduced the pianist's signature tune "Poinciana," which was underscored by Fournier's insinuating second line groove. Following the success of that album, Jamal opened his own club, the Alhambra, and recorded two albums there in 1961—Alhambra and All of You. His classic trio disbanded the following year and he formed a new trio with bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Chuck Lampkin. Jamal continued to record for the Argo/Cadet label through the '60s before recording a series of more experimental outings for the Impulse! label which utilized Fender Rhodes electric piano (1971's Freeflight and 1972's Outertimeinnerspace).
Jamal recorded for the 20th Century label through the '70s. After signing with Atlantic in 1985, he released such acclaimed, chart-topping recordings as Digital Works, Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Rossiter Road, Crystal and Pittsburgh, all of which showcased his percussive, vamp-oriented piano style, complex harmonies and melodic embellishments. In the '90s, he recorded for Telarc and in 1994 was named an American Jazz Master Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts. Jamal subsequently signed with the French Birdology label and later recorded for another French label, Dreyfus Jazz. His most recent recording is 2008's It's Magic on Dreyfus, which features Jamal's longtime rhythm tandem of bassist James Cammack and drummer Idris Muhammad.