Ahmad is said to have touched the black and white keys of a piano at the age of three with his fingertips. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to a very modest family, his parents bought him a piano and the legend was born. Around the same time, many jazz artists were beginning their careers, such as Errol Garner, Kenny Clarke, and Art Blakey. For Ahmad, the piano was a kind of game, which he returned to almost every day until he was seven years old, when he began to learn classical music. Quickly, Ahmad began to earn a living by playing classical music, and by the age of seventeen, he turned to the nightclubs of Pittsburgh, gradually accompanying singers like the brilliant Dinah Washington.
Just after World War II in 1947, Ahmad Jamal played in George Hudson’s orchestra, but playing in an orchestra with the rigidity that it demanded eventually displeased the pianist, and he left the group in 1949. In 1951, his first trio composed of Ray Crawford and Eddie Calhoun began touring the country. In 1952, he converted to Islam, where he transformed his original name (Frederick Russel Jones) into Ahmad Jamal, who was considered by some to be Malcolm X’s cousin, although this is unverifiable.
From this period, his career was launched, working under various formations, but his international notoriety came in 1969, considering that his previous work was preparatory and reflective, with the album The Awakening, which set the tone for the Ahmad Jamal style that we all know today.
Until the end of his life, Ahmad Jamal never stopped creating, passing away at the age of 92 and leaving behind an incredible wealth of compositions that will continue to influence younger generations. He drew inspiration from classical music, from Ravel to Gershwin, pushing the art of improvisation to its extreme.
Leaving behind an impressive discography, not to mention his collaborations, Ahmad Jamal has joined the pantheon of jazz stars, leaving a remarkable legacy.
Thierry De Clemensat
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