Ahmad Jamal, born July 2, 1930, is a noted American jazz pianist. Jamal was one of Miles Davis's favorite pianists and was a key influence on the trumpeter's "First Great Quintet" (featuring John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums). Davis had long admired Jamal's use of space and dynamics, and had asked Wynton Kelly to "sound more like Ahmad Jamal" on the track "Freddie Freeloader" on the well-known album Kind of Blue. Since the 1980s Jamal has been regularly touring the major clubs of the United States and the large European jazz festivals. He is generally accompanied by bassist James Cammack and drummer Idris Muhammad. He has also performed regularly with saxophonist George Coleman.
Jamal began touring with George Hudson's Orchestra. His first album Ahmad's Blues was recorded in 1951 on the Okeh label. He soon began touring with another group known as The Four Strings, which was soon disbanded. Following this, Jamal created The Three Strings in 1951, with bassist Israel Crosby and guitarist Ray Crawford. Crawford was replaced with drummer Vernel Fournier in 1958, and the group worked as the "House Trio" at Chicago's Pershing Hotel. The trio released the live album But Not for Me which stayed on the Ten Best-selling charts for 108 weeks. Jamal's well known song "Poinciana" was first released on this album. The financial success of the album allowed Jamal to open a restaurant and club called The Alhambra.
Jamal typically plays with a bassist and drummer; his current trio is with bassist James Cammack and drummer Idris Muhammad. At the Toronto Jazz Festival (June 2008) and perhaps elsewhere, Jamal's group included innovative percussionist Manolo Badrena. Jamal has also recorded with saxophonist George Coleman on the album The Essence; with vibraphonist Gary Burton on the recording "In Concert"; with the voices of the Howard A. Roberts Chorale on the recordings "Bright, Blue and Beautiful" and "Cry Young"; with brass, reeds, and strings celebrating his hometown of "Pittsburgh"; and with "The Assai Quartet", among other non-trio achievements.
Ahmad Jamal is also known to be a Steinway artist since 1960. It is rumored that his pianos sometimes needed to be tuned between sets due to the percussive nature of some of his playing. He also became a premier player of the Fender Rhodes piano in the 1980's as on the recordings "Digital Works" and on "Jamaica". Mr Jamal is also noted for his flowing lyrical lines, thundering crescendos, ability to run arpeggios from end to end of the 88 keys, and lush, beautiful ballad and latin jazz playing. Of special note is the influence of Ahmad Jamal on innovative musician and trumpeter Miles Davis who at one point said that all of his inspiration came from Ahmad Jamal: not only on his trumpet playing, song selection, and pianists, but in the area of "modes". Mr Jamal was an early exponent of extended 'vamps' allowing him to solo at great length adding fresh colorations and percussive effects, which Davis was keen to imitate, setting Miles Davis up perfectly for the entrance of true modal music into his groups with the recording "Kind of Blue".
Jamal's style has changed steadily over time - from the lighter, breezy style heard on his 1950s recordings to the Caribbean stylings of the 1970s and onto the large open voicings and bravura-laden playing of the nineties. Jamal has always been distinctive however for his use of space, his dramatic crescendos, and for a very staccato orientation with chords.
The French government has inducted Ahmad Jamal into the prestigious Order of the Arts and Letters by French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, naming him Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres on June 2007. Mr Jamal continues to tour extensively with his trio.