Remembering the Late Ahmad Jamal

1994 NEA Jazz Master, Pianist, and Composer
Headshot of a man.

Photo courtesy of DL Media

Music credits:

Excerpts from "Morning Mist" and  "I Remember Italy" composed by Ahmad Jamal used by permission of Mayah Publishing Inc [BMI]. 

Excerpts from "Autumn Rain" used by permission of WARNER-TAMERLANE PUBLISHING CORP. o/b/o AHMAD JAMAL PUBLISHING and ELLORA DESIGNS (BMI) 100% 

Excerpts from "Blue Moon" written by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, used by permission of EMI Publishing. [BMI] 

Excerpts from "Woody 'N You" written by Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Passman, used by permission of Wren Music Co/Eastman and Eastman o/b/o MPL Communications. [BMI] 

Excerpts from "Poinciana," written by Buddy Bernier and Nat Simon, used by permission of Chappell & Co., Inc (ASCAP) 50% and Bernier Publishing/Songwriters Guild of America (ASCAP) 50%.  


From the National Endowment for the Arts, this is Art Works, I’m Josephine Reed

You’re listening to pianist, composer and 1994 Jazz Master, the late Ahmad Jamal playing Morning Mist; it's from his cd Blue Moon.

Ahmad Jamal passed away earlier in the month—he was 92 years old. And we wanted to mark the life of this extraordinary musician by re-airing my 2012 interview with him which took place at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. Enjoy this music-filled podcast.

Ahmad Jamal combines subtlety and virtuosity in his music. His playing revolutionized the use of time and space in jazz. Jamal knows when to hold back and when to go for the big effect..  His extraordinary use of space in his playing, his allowing the music to breathe has been been hallmark of his influential career.  According to cultural critic Stanley Crouch, Jamal is second in importance only to Charlie Parker in the development of jazz after 1945.  Jamal certainly had a champion in Miles Davis who credited the pianist many times for influencing his own approach to music.

Ahmad Jamal is another of the many great jazz artists who was born in and raised in Pittsburgh. It's fair to say he was somewhat of a prodigy. His piano studies began at age three, and by time he was 11 he made his professional debut with a sound strongly influenced by Art Tatum and Erroll Garner.  He joined the George Hudson band in 1947 and two years later began playing with swing violinist Joe Kennedy's group Four Strings. This led to formation of his trio Three Strings which debuted at Chicago's Blue Note club, and later became the Ahmad Jamal Trio. 1958 was a banner year for Jamal with his remarkable live recording of "Poinciana" which stayed at the top of the charts for over 100 weeks. And with that, Jamal's Trio not only won great critical acclaim, but it became one of the most popular jazz groups playing.

Although Jamal has mostly worked in trios with piano, bass, and drums, his pianistic virtuosity has made him an honored guest with many orchestras. Jamal has also won considerable acclaim with his many compositions. His approach has been described as being "chamber-jazz-like," and he has experimented with strings and electric instruments as he's collaborated with musicians across genres.

He has won many awards and honors including recognition in 1994 as an NEA Jazz Master.  In fact, I caught up with Ahmad Jamal right before the 2012 Jazz Masters Concert in January.  We spoke in the studios at Jazz at Lincoln Center.  Here's our conversation:

Jo Reed: First of all, we welcome Ahmad.

Ahmad Jamal: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Jo Reed: Okay, here's my burning question: What is it with Pittsburgh and music? Is it something in the water there?

Ahmad Jamal: That's what a book is being written, titled...

Jo Reed: Pittsburgh and the Water?

Ahmad Jamal: It's a phenomena, like New Orleans, like East St. Louis, like Kansas City. Philadelphia's Pittsburgh, because that's Pennsylvania, so we've grouped those together. But when you have this grouping-- Billy Strayhorn sold papers to his family when I was a kid. He had gone with Duke. Erroll Garner and I went to the same grade school. He's my senior, of course, but we're in the same league: Pittsburgh. Earl Wild, the exponent of Liszt; bass player named Ray Brown; pianist named Earl Hines; trumpeter named Roy Eldridge; two drummers, one an expatriate--Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey; and a newcomer, George Benson. The great Stanley Turrentine, and a little dancer named Gene Kelly, and Andy Warhol's there somewhere, and I can go on and on and on. That's just the beginning.

Jo Reed: It's amazing.

Ahmad Jamal: And don't forget Billy Eckstine, the great musician and balladeer and legend, and he still is remarkable. And when I pick up his compilations, I just shake my-- the "Great B," who created a style in his clothes alone, let alone his singing. Those are for starters. <laughs>

Jo Reed: What was it like when you walked down the street? Were you just hearing music everywhere?

Ahmad Jamal: Exactly. Exactima. <laughs>

Jo Reed: Now, when did you start playing piano?

Ahmad Jamal: I took a long time to decide: three years old.

Jo Reed: What kept you for three years? <laughs>

Ahmad Jamal: One of my great influences, Erroll Garner, he started at three, as well. It happens, but... doesn't happen every day, but it happened with me. It happened with Earl.

Jo Reed: And you studied classical piano at first?

Ahmad Jamal: Well, that's a word that rubs me the wrong way. <laughs> I studied European classical and American classical, because this word we call "jazz," it leaves something in me wanting.

Jo Reed: Tell me what.

Ahmad Jamal: The only two art forms that developed in the United States, in my opinion: American Indian art, and this thing we call jazz. I'm not paranoid about the word, but they never intended for this to be a sophisticated, to say the least, art form, and one that's instrumental in putting up buildings like the one we're in: the JALC Building. This is what happens in the jazz community, so it's up to us to redefine what we want to call it. I coined that phrase some years ago-"American Classical Music." Duke didn't call himself a jazz musician. George Shearing is multidimensional, like all of us are. He could play a Mozart concerto, and he could write Lullaby in Birdland [sic]. You're not going to find that in the European classical community, this multidimensional ability. One-dimensional most of the time-- 90 percent of the time--when you talk about European classicists. In order for us to be successful, Jo, we have to know the best of both worlds. I was playing Franz Liszt when I was 10 years old, in competition, and I can't play it now because I have to stick to what pays the bill, and the American classical music is what I prefer. And I still am able to run through my basic repertoire when it comes to the European classical music, but I also can run through the repertoire of American classical music, as well. So when people come to me, say, "Oh, I play classical music," get away from me. I don't want to hear that. I play classical music, too. Duke played classical music. Ben Webster, who gave me a pair of cufflinks when I was a kid, he played classical music, and Paul Gonzales--all of us are classicists. But it's up to us to redefine what we want to call our art form. I'm the one that took a straightforward, pioneering approach, and called it "American classical music." I just talked to a man who calls his program-- Al Cartabayan in Chicago-- he calls it "American classical music in a jazz idiom." So I don't care who gets credit for it; it's being echoed all over the world now. That's what it is. Long explanation, but I hope it works for you.

Jo Reed: Yeah, well, I'm mindful of what Duke Ellington said when somebody had said, "You write jazz." And he said, "Look, there are two kinds of music."

Ahmad Jamal: "Good and bad."

Jo Reed: "Good and the other kind." <laughs> And I think that's right. American classical music is very challenging to play. And I mean that in the best possible way, because it's so multifaceted and so complex.

Ahmad Jamal: Hmm. It's a study, that's for sure. And they say, "Oh, you improvise." So did Mozart. So did Bach. All musicians are improvisers, <laughs> and to confine that to the American classical genre is ridiculous, because there's so many things that we don't have that Mozart wrote that are thought about, but he didn't necessarily write it down. Now, I'm the same way; if it's very, very important and I think it's going to make a statement in music, then I'll write it down, Jo. But we're all improvisers. But that's an acquired skill. Improvisation is an acquired skill. You just don't sit down and improvise. That's an acquired skill. That's one of the facets of this wonderful American classical music world, is that we've perfected improvisation down to a T, some of us. But it also is evident in the European tradition, too. So we're all improvisers.

Jo Reed: Now, I want to go back and talk about Three Strings. Three Strings, when you first started that.

Ahmad Jamal: Quite historical.

Jo Reed: It's quite historical. And you didn't have a drummer. You had a guitarist...

Ahmad Jamal: Ray Crawford, a wonderful guitarist from my hometown-- again, Pittsburgh.

Jo Reed: Pittsburgh. A bassist, and you. Was that unusual, not to have a drummer?

Ahmad Jamal: Well, it was first master Joe Kennedy, violinist. He was the leader of The Four Strings, which group I joined after Sam Johnson left. He was the first pianist with The Four Strings, a group that Mary Lou Williams deemed her favorite. And the only recordings of record, something that Moe Asche did on disc-- records, I believe. Moe Asche I think, was the entrepreneur at that time. And Joe's group was called The Four Strings, so when Joe left Chicago and decided to go back to Pittsburgh, I inherited The Three Strings, so that's how it came about.

Jo Reed: And eventually you let go of the guitarist and brought in a drummer.

Ahmad Jamal: Well, that happened because we work in The Embers, on 54th Street...

Jo Reed: In this fair city.

Ahmad Jamal: And someone came up to the piano-we were an intermission group at that time, Jo. Place was packed. People-- Jackie Gleason, Peggy Lee, everybody used to--Joey Bushkin was the featured artist. So I'm the intermission artist, intermission act, whatever you want to call it. We're an intermission group. Someone comes up to the piano, evidently wanting a request in his drunken state, sets a glass of red wine, and spills it all over the keyboard. So I jumped up, went downstairs, put on my coat, and Israel Crosby and I drove all the way back in my station wagon, at that time, all the way back to Chicago, and Ray stayed in New York. That's how the addition of the drummer picture entered. Ray stayed in New York, so I had to get a replacement for him. The replacement happened to be drums, because I figured at that time maybe it was a little too subtle with a guitar, bass. That's a very subtle group, and some of my most interesting recordings were made with Ray Crawford, Israel Crosby, and myself. My first Poinciana was a lovely thing we did in 1955 for Epic Records, and that's one of my favorite recordings of Poinciana, but it wasn't a multidimensional hit that came about in '58 and sold a million copies. The thing stayed on the charts for 108 weeks, which was a first in the history of instrumental music in my genre--108 weeks. But the first recording of Pointciana was done with Ray Crawford--gorgeous.

Jo Reed: And it is beautiful. I actually listened to it this morning. Poinciana is a phenomenon in so many ways because it was critically acclaimed, and at the same time stayed on top of the charts, as you said, for so long, and this is very unusual for instrumental music. It's-- you can, what, count on, what, two hands?

Ahmad Jamal: Well, we don't get the hits. The human voice gets the hits, and it's very difficult for instrumentalists to get that kind of reaction. Yes, the human voice-- yeah. The singers get the hits, but we don't. There're a few of us-- Herbie Hancock, myself, Dave Brubeck--and then you have to start counting. There're a few more. On a cumulative basis, Oscar Peterson and others--but this was one record that stayed on the charts, top 10, for 108 weeks.

Poinciana up and hot

Ahmad Jamal: And the Grammys they owe me a special award for that, because Grammys were initiated a couple years hence, but the right thing to do was to give me an award for that record that stayed on the charts for 108 weeks, instrumentally. Unbelievable.

Jo Reed: You have the touch. The touch you have, it's so light, so sweet. You play with dynamics on the keyboard. There's quiet, there's loud. I mean, you really move throughout the keyboard. And as Miles Davis said famously, "You have space. You let the music breathe." How did you develop this?

Ahmad Jamal: Pittsburgh. <laughs>

Jo Reed: <laughs> Back to Pittsburgh.

Ahmad Jamal: That's the key. All of us from Pittsburgh, we have our—Erroll had his approach, pianistically. Billy had his approach when it came to compositions, orchestration. George Benson has his. No one plays like Stanley Turrentine, no one plays bass like Ray Brown, and no played like Kenny Clarke or Art Blakey, and no one sang like Billy. So we're Pittsburghers. We're unique, <laughs> if I may say "Pittsburgher" instead of "Pittsburghites," or whatever.

Jo Reed: I like "Pittsburgher." I think it's much better. <laughs>

Ahmad Jamal: Anyway, it works for me. So that's here, again, that's my answer, because we grew up in a tremendous environment for the fledgling, or the person aspiring to be a musician, like New Orleans. You know, all my drummers come from New Orleans, and not purposely, but it just happened. There was a great drummer, Vernell Fournier. And Herlin Riley left home, his first job on the road was with me. And the phenomenal Idris Mohammedwho wrote the drum music for Hair he got sick of playing in Hair and just went out with Roberta Flack. But these are some of the drummers that have shared the stage with me, and I'm thankful for that. So there's another phenomena.

Jo Reed: Yeah. What do you think that's about, Ahmad? I mean, do you think there needs to be a critical mass?

Ahmad Jamal: It's a history of-- it-- well, first of all, not to be redundant, but that's it's phenomena. Some-- it's happens that way, and that's New Orleans. New Orleans is perfect. It's a perfect showcase for nourishing talents like the Marsalis family, Vernell Fournier, Louis Armstrong, going back, back, back. Come on, that's New Orleans, and Pittsburgh's the same way. And St. Louis is no second bass. That's East St. Louis--Miles Davis. And St. Louis, where my first band was headquartered. That was my first job, at 17 years old, on the road with a St. Louis band. And who came out of that band? Clark Terry, me, Ernie Wilkins.

Ahmad Jamal: So St. Louis is another one of those areas. We-- it's very interesting.

Jo Reed: It is interesting. You're-- I think the first composition of your own that you recorded was Ahmad's Blues.

Ahmad Jamal: That's correct.

Jo Reed: Nineteen fifty-one.

Ahmad Jamal: That's correct.

Jo Reed: What was that like, going into a studio with your own work?

Ahmad Jamal: Well, I was, Ahmad's Blues came about-- I was working with a song-and-dance team called the Caldwells, out of St. Louis, again, and I guess I was blue because I had to be the drummer, I had to be the guitarist, had to be the pianist, everything, because they just held instruments. They didn't play them, so you had to be really on the job to support this group. And the pianist that followed me was one of my favorites: Ray Bryant, the late Ray Bryant. So Ahmad's Blues was written when I was 18 years old in Philadelphia, when we had a layover and I was very sad. <laughs> And I wrote Ahmad's Blues then. The catalyst was my career with the song-and-dance team, the Caldwells. And of course it became one of the numbers used in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway for two years. Did you know that? But it wasn't my recording. It was Miles's recording, with Red Garland. And then later on, Marlena Shaw, bless her, sang the lyrical version, the lyrics done by Bob Williams, the late Bob Williams, then Natalie Cole did a later version. So it's a good copyright for me.

Jo Reed: What's the difference for you between going into a studio and recording, doing work there, and performing live?

Ahmad Jamal: Your question was studio vs. remote recording.

Jo Reed: Yeah.

Ahmad Jamal: That's the correct name. People say "live." They're all live. The correct term is "remote"-- removed from the studio. I like both. Sometimes the studio gives you a more clinical, sterile thing than the remote recordings. So I do both. I just did a studio CD here in New York. I don't record in New York often. I did the recording at Avatar Studios-- Blue Moon.

Ahmad Jamal: A lot of fun in a studio, a lot of fun doing it remote. I like them both. They both work.

Jo Reed: Do you have a favorite album or CD?

Ahmad Jamal: The next one.

Jo Reed: <laughs> You and Miles Davis had a mutual admiration society. He also spoke so highly of your work, and was influenced by it.

Ahmad Jamal: Sort of a fan, wasn't he?

Jo Reed: Yeah, he was.

Ahmad Jamal: <laughs> Yeah, well, we accept that. Miles was one of my well-wishers, and of course him and one of my favorite writers, Gil Evans--Miles Plus 19 did New Rumba, which is another one of my good copyrights, the few I have. I wrote that in 1951 or thereabouts, and Miles recorded that. And the nice thing about it is when I write, I think, orchestrally, so it was not too difficult for that to be adapted to big orchestra. So that's what Gil did, and I admire Gil, because a lot of people don't know about Gil Evans, but he goes back  many years. I used to listen to his arrangement with other bands that he wrote for. But they did-- Claude Thornhill. I think he was writing for Claude Thornhill, way, way back. So they did a wonderful job, don't you think so, with New Rumba?

Jo Reed: Oh, yeah.

Ahmad Jamal: Have you listened to it?

Jo Reed: I have listened to it.

Ahmad Jamal: Well, thank you.

Jo Reed: It was wonderful.

Ahmad Jamal: Merci beaucoup. <laughs>

Jo Reed: It was just wonderful. Okay, you wrote that in the fifties. You've been at this for a long time. How has the recording industry changed in…?

Ahmad Jamal: Is there a recording industry now?

Jo Reed: Yeah.

Ahmad Jamal: Just for a few of us.

Jo Reed: It seems that way, doesn't it, in some ways?

Ahmad Jamal: Yes. It's another thing now. Some of the stuff out there has nothing to do with music. it's terrible, this assault on intellectual property. And we have all these things. They have the iPods, the Strawberries, the Blackberries, the Blueberries, download, upload, the computers, the this, the new phones. Has the quality of life improved? And where's the record industry? Even the movies are being assaulted. People are downloading movies, this is not right. So what happened to the culture of ethics? You can't legislate honesty. You can't do that. If it doesn't come from the integrity inside the person, you're not going to do that. I don't care how many laws you pass. So we got a problem. The record business, except for a few of us, a few of us are still able to go into the studio-I'm talking about instrumentally. There are all sorts of stuff out there. They're still making records. But I'm talking about the music business, not other things that have very little to do with music. And unless you're established, it's very difficult for a youngster to get a record contract now. They're nonexistent. Unless the youngsters make their own records, that's it. They have to make their own records. They have to sell them at the venue. The distribution-- what happened to the big record stores? You had the big record store here on Broadway.

Jo Reed: Tower Records.

Ahmad Jamal: What happened to Tower? It's gone.

Jo Reed: What I wonder about is record producers. I'm thinking about a Norman Granz or a John Hammond, and the shift away from that to much more, I think-- and I don't know if you agree-- a business model. They're not necessarily musically inclined.

Ahmad Jamal: We just lost another one. I've done recording for French companies for the last 15, 16 years, and I had gone from Jean-Francois Du Baire's company, which is Brodologie [ph?]. We were distributed by PolyGram and others, and we were distributed by Francis Dreyfus-Francis Dreyfus. Francis just passed. A nd you talk about an endangered species. Ahmet Ertegun, Nesuhi Ertegun, Ralph Kaffel is still around. Leonard Chess, whose company I helped establish-- Chess, Checker, and Argo-- now they have Cadillac Records, a movie out there about Leonard Chess's. But the jazz division-- the so-called "jazz division"-- I started with Leonard. He had four artists-- basic artists. He had Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and me. And $52 million later, he sold the company, and the people he sold it to lost every dime. When you talk about these kind of record people, they're endangered species.

Jo Reed: I don't think I'm being nostalgic, but when I hear you talk about coming up in Pittsburgh, or when you talk about St. Louis or New Orleans, there seems to have been a great camaraderie among musicians that I'm not sure I see as much today. And I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem to quite be there in the way that it was for you.

Ahmad Jamal: You're absolutely right. That's one of the signs of the present era in which we live. The camaraderie is disappearing, and we are suffering because of that, because I learned a lot from my older predecessors, the people that came before me. I'm a piece of history. Duke Ellington's 25th anniversary, Carnegie Hall in 1952. Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker with Strings, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and myself. I'm the only one living of the headliners. That's history. So you think that was camaraderie? Of course, and that has stayed with me since, because these are the people who went before me and who paved the way for artists such as myself, and Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner, and on and on and on. So the camaraderie is disappearing. It's running down to a precious few.

Jo Reed: So talk about your experience with Blue Moon, making that.

Ahmad Jamal: Blue Moon-- the concept for Blue Moon came on one of my wonderful Steinways at home. I have two at home, and I love them. I've been with Steinway for years. I went over there on 57th Street with John Hammond on my right and Fritz Steinway on my left. They're both gone, but I'm still here. That was in 1960. That's a few years back. So Blue Moon, I heard a line and I was playing a line on the piano at home. I said, "This is Blue Moon."

Blue Moon up and hot and under

Ahmad Jamal: And the rest is history. Nine tracks later, we're releasing it at the Chatelet in Paris.

Jo Reed: And the experience in the studio?

Ahmad Jamal: It was great because I had some remarkable musicians: Manolo Badrena, who's one of the world's great percussionists, and a man I love very much--I think a few of his musical buddies; and a man that is certainly sought after in many places, Herlin Riley, who was with Wynton for 17 years and Reginald Veal was with Wynton before Herli n joined the band. They were my studio musicians, and musicians of record on Blue Moon: Reginald Veal, bass; Herlin Riley, drums; Manolo Badrena, percussionist; and myself.

Jo Reed: You said, "The more rules you observe in this life, the more soul you're going to get."

Ahmad Jamal: The more what?

Jo Reed: Soul.

Ahmad Jamal: Well, the more freedom. You can't get freedom unless you observe the rules. If you don't observe-- people say that, "I want to be free, so I want to be"-- that's hogwash. You have to observe the rules. If you see a stop sign if you're driving a car, do you stop? Of course, because you want to be free. You don't want the police stopping you, and killing someone, so you have to observe the rules in order to be free. So there's a joy in discipline that's much overlooked.

Jo Reed: Do you think music has to have a message?

Ahmad Jamal: For me, it always has a message. When I play, I'm playing years and years of hard work, years of ups and downs, years of grief and joy and peace, and so it tells a story. So a musician's telling his life when he's on the concert stage. He's performing his life.

Blue Moon up and hot

Ahmad Jamal: Maybe people don't know that, but that's what he's projecting: his life. And a lot of us, even though we don't sing, some of the compositions that we've interpreted beyond the wildest dreams of their composers, that's another thing that makes up this great business of American classical music. We've interpreted the compositions of some of the composers beyond their wildest dreams. Look at John Coltrane. A little trivia: My Favorite Things, that's how you know John Coltrane; not by his compositions, necessarily, but by his interpretation of a little trivia thing, My Favorite Things. Poinciana is not my copyright, but what happened? I made a bigger hit out of a hit. And it got the Sarah Vaughans, the Paul Gonzaleses, and the Ben Websters, who were so lyrical, and the Lester Young's-- Polka Dot and Moonbeams [sic]-- all those wonderful things. Those are storytellers. All storytellers, every one of them. Coleman Hawkins, Body and Soul—storyteller. Coleman, he came up with this record. It's a historical record. That was a model, not only for a musician, but for the record business. And people like Stuff Smith, and all the wonderful things that Ray Nance used to do with Duke, it told a story. That solo on the Take the "A" Train that Ray Nance did—classic. We're telling the story of our lives, though, you know? Hopefully, we get to one or two people, and sometimes we get to thousands. It happens. Sometimes we get to millions.

Jo Reed: What advice do you have for a young jazz musician now, a young musician coming up?

Ahmad Jamal: That's okay. You can say "jazz." <laughs> The young person aspiring to be an American classicist?

Jo Reed: Yes.

Ahmad Jamal: I say this all over the world when I do interviews. Have more than one exit door, because if you only have one exit door, a fire breaks out, you may get trampled to death. What do I mean by that? If you want to be a performer and the doors are closed temporarily, don't get frustrated because you've gone to school and you learn how to write, or you learn how to teach, or you learn how to conduct. Prepare yourself with more than one exit door so you won't get trampled to death, and you can be places because you want to be, not because you have to be. And the only way you're going to do that is education. Not all the schools are perfect, but the value in seeking knowledge, even if you got to go to China, is much more important than being out in the street, wandering aimlessly on at a too impressionable young age. And most of the times when you're that young and you're out here, and you're not in the educational system, you get destroyed because you don't know how to say yes, you don't know how to say no. And that's the sad story of so many of our youngsters that get caught up in the world, as opposed to being equipped for the world. Only way you can do that is to get education, and I mean, spiritually and temporally, on both sides.

Jo Reed: Ahmad Jamal, thank you so very much, and thank you for so many years of glorious music.

Ahmad Jamal: Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed:  That was the great Ahmad Jamal who passed away earlier this month. We were celebrating the life and music of the pianist, composer and 1994 NEA Jazz Master.  Ahmad and I spoke back in 2012 at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.

You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. We’d love to know your thoughts—email us at And follow us wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a rating on Apple, it helps other people who love the arts to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

We’re celebrating the life and music of pianist, composer, and 1994 NEA Jazz Master Ahmad Jamal, who passed away on April 16, 2023. In this 2012 interview, he discusses his legendary career as a pianist, composer, and innovator in jazz, which he always called American classical music. Our conversation covers Jamal's early influences—including his great hometown of Pittsburgh, his unique approach to improvisation, and his collaborations with other jazz greats. Jamal also shares his thoughts on improvisation, the importance of listening, the power of collective creativity, and the evolution of  American classical music over the years. As you’ll hear, Ahmad Jamal was extremely thoughtful, candid, and full of good humor. Enjoy!

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