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Ahmad Jamal: “Everything Depends on the Repertoire That One Possesses”


Ahmad Jamal, a luminary in the realm of American classical music, shares the vivid tapestry of his musical journey. Hailing from Pittsburgh, a city with deep musical roots, Jamal’s early success sprang from his profound knowledge of a diverse repertoire, seamlessly intertwining works of Ravel, Debussy, Beethoven, Art Tatum, and Duke Ellington.

His entry into the music scene at the age of 10, navigating both local and imported talents, marked the beginning of an extraordinary career. Jamal reflects on the influences of Erroll Garner and Sam Johnson, attributing his acceptance into the musical fraternity to his comprehensive repertoire knowledge.

Moving to Chicago, Jamal’s trajectory encountered pivotal moments, including his historic recording session at the Pershing. Persuading the head of Chess Records, he captured timeless tracks, with “At the Pershing” becoming iconic in the jazz landscape. His insights into arranging for a piano trio reveal an orchestral mindset, emphasizing predetermined structures while allowing for interpretative freedom.

The interview delves into Jamal’s collaborations with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier. The trio’s exceptional chemistry, epitomized in tracks like “Poinciana,” led to enduring recognition. Jamal’s perspective on the music scene in Chicago, characterized by a vibrant mix of local and touring musicians, adds depth to his narrative.

A keen advocate for the cultural significance of art forms, Jamal emphasizes the vital role of American classical music in shaping a country’s cultural identity. He laments the contemporary focus on commercial pursuits over artistic and cultural enrichment.

In offering advice to aspiring jazz musicians, Jamal emphasizes the timeless essence of swing and the importance of making value statements in music. Reflecting on his experiences with legendary figures like Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington, Jamal underscores the enduring impact of artists who contribute meaningful expressions.

As Jamal discusses his latest release, “Ballades,” and upcoming projects with his daughter and artist Philip Solomon, the interview provides a glimpse into the ongoing creative endeavors of this musical maestro. With his deep appreciation for repertoire knowledge, cultural enrichment, and the essence of musical value, Ahmad Jamal stands as a stalwart guardian of American classical music.

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ISSN: 2792-8349

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International Journal of Music