Ahmed Jamal, the influential jazz pianist who inspired generations of musicians for seven decades, died Sunday, The Washington Post reported. He was 92. His wife, Laura Hess-Hay, confirmed the news for the Review. No further details were spared. Jamal began his professional career while at an elite academy in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has continued to create and influence multiple musical genres throughout his seven-decade career.
First performing under the name Fritz Jones, he was one of the first African American artists to openly embrace the Muslim faith and began performing under the name Ahmad Jamal in the 1950s. Jamal formed his own trio in 1951, which served as the house band for Chesterfield of the Pershing Hotel in Chicago.
The infamous black scene was set at Pershing’s But Not For Me for his 1958 megahit Reader Ahmed Jamal. The live LP reached the top of the charts and stayed there for over 100 weeks, buoyed by his stunning rendition of “Poinciana”. After the record’s success, he opened his own Chicago club called the Alhambra, where he recorded several compilations until it closed in 1961.
He has spoken to many artists in the jazz world and beyond, from trumpeter Miles Davis to pianist McCoy Tyner to Seder Walton. Bill Charlop, and Matthew Shipp. He also pushed the boundaries of the kidney, as he did with an electric keyboard rendition of Johnny Mandel’s theme for “MAS*H” in 1970. As hipsterism-hop directors began to delve into the depths of jazz registers, a new generation of suckers discovered Jamal through ingenious samples from DJ Premier (Gang Starr’s “Soliloquy of Chaos, ”) Pete Rock (M.O.P.’s “Stick to Ya.”) and Ski( Jay-Z’s “Feelin’ It”), among many others.
In 1996, J Dilla famously covered Jamal’s 1974 song “Swahililand” as the title track to De La Soul’s “Stakes Are High”.) Born Frederick Russell Jones on July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jamal first began playing the piano. 3 times older. He later moved to the U.S. He studied under Mary Cardwell Dawson, who founded the first Black Peas Company.
By the time he was in high school, he was already earning plutocrat working gigs in clubs. “That’s 25 cents, there’s $6,” he told The Washington Post in 1983. After a stint in Chicago, he moved to New York City, where he took up the hearthstone at the Village Gate Cafe. He continued traveling in 1964 and released Reader Extensions in 1965.
While he established himself with interpretations of classic pop rules, in the eighties he began to move towards more original compositions. In the nineties, he released a series of LPs under the name The Substance. Among his accolades, Jamal was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Trades in 1994. In 2017, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy.