By Tribune staff
One of the finest pianists and small group leaders in jazz history comes to Nashville this weekend. The great Ahmad Jamal brings his group to Schermerhorn Symphony Hall Friday night October 18 for his first local appearance in recent memory. Jamal, who began playing formally at the age of seven and professionally at 14, has been a prominent figure in jazz circles since the early 50s. He’s known for his innovative approach that emphasizes melodic invention, tempo adjustment and space to a degree that enables his trios and quartets to approximate much larger groups in both sound and scope.
His 1957 trio release “At The Pershing: But Not For Me” remains one of jazz’s most popular releases. It was on the Billboard charts for 108 weeks, while his signature tune “Poinciana” was first released on that album. His 1970 release “The Awakening” was subsequently sampled by a number of rappers in their songs. He had two recordings from the Pershing album featured in the 1995 film “The Bridges of Madison County.”
In recent years he’s added electric piano to his arsenal, and has also become the mentor of virtuoso pianist Hiromi. Jamal has won a host of honors, among them a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a Kennedy Center Honors citation, and a NEA Jazz Master award. He’s remained active with several recent albums and/or DVDs, among them “Live at L’Olympia” with Yusef Lateef (2014), “Marseille” (2017) and “Ballades” (2019), his first release of mostly solo piano.
At 89, he remains a vigorous and inventive pianist, and continues to tour both nationally and internationally. The great critic AB Spellman characterized Jamal’s playing in this manner, saying, “Nobody except Thelonious Monk used space better, and nobody ever applied the artistic device of tension and release better.”
Ahmad Jamal and his group at Schermerhorn Symphony Hall Friday night.