BMI was greatly saddened to learn of the passing of incomparable jazz pianist/composer/arranger Ahmad Jamal, who died Sunday at age 92 at his home in Ashley Falls, MA. A hugely influential figure renowned for his nuanced playing, Jamal’s less-is-more style allowed for depth and understatement in his performances, allowing light and space to color the arrangements. This particular approach on his work from the 50’s and 60’s proved to be hugely inspirational to later titans of the genre like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and many others. Outside of the jazz world, Jamal’s music has been widely sampled and appears on over 40 hip-hop tracks.
A versatile and tireless music creator, Jamal started playing piano at the age of three in his native Pittsburgh. By age seven, he was taking formal studies and already excelling, steeping himself in European classical music, but by 14, he started veering towards jazz. His music career started in earnest upon graduating from high school in 1948, when he joined the George Hudson Orchestra for a tour. Three years later, he cut his first recording, “Ahmad’s Blues,” with his band, the Three Strings, so named for their instruments — guitar, bass and piano. Ahmad later substituted the guitar for drums and perfected his signature sound, arguably best captured on his live record, Live At the Pershing: But Not For Me, which was the first jazz album to sell a million copies, staying on the Billboard charts for 107 weeks.
For his innovation and artistry, the BMI affiliate received some of the highest accolades of the industry, including an NEA Jazz Masters Award in 1994, a Living Jazz Legend honor from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2007 and a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy in 2017, among many others.
Ahmad Jamal will be missed by his friends, fans and family at BMI.