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Jazz Feature for July 28:"The Ahmad Jamal Trio at the Pershing Lounge".
Pianist extraordinaire, Ahmad Jamal, in the 1950's became one of the most accessible and best selling Jazz artists early in his career. This very gifted pianist, possessed with an incredible 'touch' and with technique to burn, pioneered the use of space and dynamics while keeping the music lyrical and easy to follow. His hit LP record for the Chicago based Argo(Cadet) label entitled "But Not For Me:Ahmad Jamal Live at the Pershing" including his interpretation and arrangement of "Poinciana" (a pop tune from the early 40's) put Jamal at the top of the Jazz charts in those days (1958) and is The Jazz Feature for tonight's show. It's also nice to know that Jamal today is healthy and vital and still playing beautifully......touring, recording, still creating and still playing 'Poinciana'.
Ahmad Jamal was plain old Fritz Jones when he began his first piano lessons in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania where he was born on July 2, 1930. He studied piano with Mary Caldwell Dawson, a noted classical singer and pianist and later with James Miller. While still in high school, Jamal made his professional debut and left with St. Louis based band leader George Hudson. After Hudson, he toured with a song and dance team then moved to Chicago where he formed his own trio called the 'Three Strings' based on the Nat King Cole Trio format of piano, guitar and accoustic bass. This was in the very early 1950's. It was at that time that young Fritz Jones converted to Islam and became Ahmad Jamal. He had some commercial success with this early trio. His version of the tune 'Billy Boy' was copied by all the young pianists of the time including Oscar Peterson. The big move for Jamal was when he changed his trio format to piano, bass and in place of the guitar, drums. Jamal's trio with one of the unsung geniuses of the bass, Israel Crosby and the great New Orleans born drummer, Vernel Fournier became one of the most influential groups of it's kind in Jazz. Crosby, who was 11 years older than Jamal (Israel was born in Chicago on January 19,1919) came to prominence in the 'swing era' in the 1930's began his career as a trumpet player and in 1934 switched to bass and played with pianist Albert Ammons and Fletcher Henderson and many others including, throughout the 1940's, Raymond Scott. Crosby was an inspiration for countless bassists including Wilbur Ware and his prominence in Jazz pre-dated Jimmy Blanton's. His technique and innovation on the bass still needs to be re-evaluated and recognised. Bassist, Ron Carter has been one of the few who have singled out Israel Crosby as being one of the most modern and innovative bassists of all time. Crosby was only 43 when he died of a heart attack in 1962. When you hear Jamal's trio tonight you will realize that Crosby's musical relationship with Jamal was like that of Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro. Drummer, Vernel Fournier was born in New Orleans on July 20 1928 and died on November 4, 2000 was one of the most ideal drummers for the subtleties of Jamal's stylings. He moved to Chicago in 1946 and played with everybody who came through town and was for a long time, the house drummer at the legendary "Bee Hive" where all the heavy modernists played. His time with Jamal from 1956 to 1962 put him in front of the Jazz world and his brush work and his "New Orleans Second-Line" beat on Jamal's version of Poinciana became one of the most copied of all drum rhythms. Vernel converted to Islam in 1975 and became Amir Rushdan and played until felled by a stroke. Unable to play, he continued to teach until his death.
This unique trio is our Jazz Feature tonight and we will hear what became so popular and influential. Miles Davis loved this trio and was unstinting in his praise for Jamal and insisted that all of his pianists (with the exception of Bill Evans) from Red Garland to Wynton Kelly to Herbie Hancock and others listen to Jamal and learn about taste and space. Despite all the raves from musicians and fans, Jamal suffered at the hands of tin-eared critics who dismissed him as a lightweight who was not really worthy of the attention he was getting. They couldn't see beyond the accessibility of Ahmad's music and understand his use of space and dynamics. Jamal was hurt by this at the time but moved onto his stature as one of the most revered and respected pianists in Jazz. He has been called a 'genius' by many........see how you feel about one of the most outstanding piano trios in Jazz history tonight when we present Jamal and company at the Pershing Lounge in Chicago , recorded in January 1958 on the Jazz Feature at 11pm.
Join me for the full show at 9pm for along with some surprises we will be playing some tracks from The Maria Schneider Orchestra's award winning album "SkyBlue". Maria recently won in four categories in Down Beat Magazine's annual Critic's Poll: (1) Jazz Album. for "SkyBlue". (2) Big Band. (3) Composer. (4) Arranger.
See you on Monday night.
Gavin Walker's The Jazz Show is heard Mondays 9PM to midnight on CITR 101.9 FM and online.
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