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Ahmad Jamal

A child prodigy who learned piano at age three and cut his teeth professionally at eleven, Ahmad Jamal (born Frederick Russell Jones in 1930) formed several jazz trios throughout the '50s -- back when the quiet and conservative tones of the cool era were evolving from bebop's radical bombast. A pioneering minimalist, Jamal brilliantly used space and dynamics to usher in a new, influential style, one that equally emphasized silence and melody, explored the interplay between tension and release and didn't overwhelm listeners' senses with a lot of unnecessary notes. In fact, Miles Davis, who borrowed liberally from the Pittsburgh native's repertoire, based the framework for his legendary "So What" on Jamal's imaginative rearrangement of Morton Gould's "Pavanne." But it was the innovative ivory-tickler's signature version of Bernier and Simon's immortal "Poinciana" that broadened Jamal's reputation among jazz enthusiasts internationally. One of the Chess label's four original signees (Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters round out that exclusive club), Jamal has issued some seventy albums to date -- proving that music, especially coming from a scaled down piano-bass-drums lineup, can still soothe the savage beast.
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John La Briola

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