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Jamal started playing the piano at age three, he started his training at seven and eleven and he played professionally under the name of Fritz Jones (although during World War II he also called himself “Freddie”) being influenced by artists such as Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Count Basie and Nat King Cole. After graduating from high school, he toured as a chaperone and joined George Hudson’s orchestra in 1949. A year later, he joined Joe Kennedy’s swing group, the Four Strings, where he worked as a pianist and arranger.
In 1950, Jamal formed his own band, the Three Strings, with bassist Eddie Calhoun and guitarist Ray Crawford. They were discovered by the Columbia company in 1951 and signed by the subsidiary seal of this OKeh. Calhoun was later replaced by Richard Davis and later by Israel Crosby in 1955; During that time, Fritz Jones converted to Islam and changed his name to Ahmad Jamal’s in 1952. Also, at that time, the group, eventually renamed Ahmad Jamal Trio, recorded two albums, which included Jamal’s classic “Ahmad’s Blues “and a version of” Pavanne “that were the backbone of the legendary Miles Davis songs” So What “and” Impressions “by John Coltrane.
In 1955 he changed company, to Argo, where the trio recorded the successful Chamber Music of New Jazz, which impressed Davis and in which the arranger Gil Evans was based to create the work for the trumpeter. In 1956, Jamal chose to replace the guitarist Crawford with a drummer, Walter Perkins; in turn, this was replaced in 1958 by Vernel Fournier, leaving the classic group that worked regularly at the Pershing Hotel in Chicago, resulting in a classic live album: Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me; Jamal’s version of “Poinciana” became his theme par excellence. As a result of this success, Jamal opened his own club, Alhambra, and recorded abundantly for Argo during the 1960s.
Some of his albums had considerable success, for example Ahmad Jamal Trio, Vol. 4 (1958) and Ahmad Jamal at the Penthouse (1960). In 1962 the trio fell apart. With arranger Richard Evans, Jamal recorded another jazz session with violins, Macanudo, and then formed a new trio with bassist Jamil Nasser (also known as Jamil Sulieman) and drummer Chuck Lampkin. Lampkin left in 1965 and was replaced by Fournier (in the LP Extensions) before finally Frank Gant was part of the trio.
Jamal experienced a brief resurgence of his success at the end of the sixties thanks to albums like Standard Eyes (1967) and Cry Young (1968). A year later he changed company, now for Impulse !, and recorded five albums in four years, including a live show at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1971 and Outertimeinnerspace (1972), where he experimented with the electric piano.
Jamal switched to the 20th Century company in 1973. Nasser left the trio in the mid-1970s and was replaced by John Hurd; In addition, the trio was extended to quartet momentarily with the addition of guitarist Charlie Keys to the 1976 concert Live at Oil Can Harry’s. Night Song introduced Jamal working with a larger group in 1980. But he again formed another trio with bassist Sabu Adeyola and drummer Payton Crossley.
At the beginning of the 1980s, Jamal toured and recorded in tandem with vibraphonist Gary Burton and returned to a powerful company when he signed with Atlantic in 1985. He also worked for Telarc in the early nineties. In 1994, he was awarded the American Jazz Master Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Jamal later signed with the French label Birdology, which marked the beginning of a creative renaissance. His recordings were initially distributed in the United States by Verve and Atlantic, and later by the small label Dreyfus Jazz. His first French album, The Essence of Ahmad Jamal, Pt. 1 was received warmly in France, and it was the first time that Jamal recorded in small group with a saxophonist (George Coleman). He followed with Big Byrd: The Essence, Pt. 2 (1997) and Nature: The Essence, Pt. 3 (1998), and especially with the acclaimed concert of his 70th birthday at Olympia in 2000. The 2003 album In Search of Momentum was also very well received by critics.
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