Pianist Jamal returns to his heart in Pittsburgh
Pianist Ahmad Jamal says he always is happy to return home to the “phenomenon” of Pittsburgh.
He admits to constantly marveling over the great cast of characters this city has produced — from writer Gertrude Stein to pianist Erroll Garner — and believes the area's work ethic has a great deal to do with it.
“Pittsburgh people know the philosophical truism that if you are spending your time trying to please everybody, you are a damn fool,” he says. “They are a great group of risk-takers. Who plays bass like Ray Brown or sings like Billy Eckstine or plays sax like Stanley Turrentine?”
That sort of appreciation, he says, makes him proud to be part of the group of jazz legends from Pittsburgh. He also is glad to perform in the cozy settings of the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side, where he will be Sept. 27 and 28.
The setting seems far removed from recent appearances at the Marciac Festival in France or concerts in Johannesburg, South Africa, or New York City. But the “thought of coming to Pittsburgh always speaks to me,” he says.
He is here for a special occasion, but says the function is not the important element. It is the trip home that is, he says.
Jamal will perform a concert Sept. 27 and then be the featured guest the next evening at the MCG Jazz Legends Party, the annual fundraising gala. At that event, MCG Jazz will add members to its list of local jazz legends, those who have made Pittsburgh the heart of their musical lives.
Added this year will be singers Michele Bensen and Etta Cox, trombonist Al Dowe, and saxophonists Kenny Blake and Jim Guerra.
Jamal will appear with bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Herlin Riley and percussionist Manolo Badrena.
Jamal, 83, started touring right after graduating from Westinghouse High School, and began recording in 1951. As he shaped his personal style, he began to carve a niche in jazz built around an assertive style that can be as aggressive as it is restrained.
That work makes his playing immediately identifiable and has earned him such honors as being named a jazz master by the National Endowment for the Arts and being inducted into the French government's Order of Arts and Letters.
His work and appreciation has allowed him to reach the stage where he can control his performance schedule. He says he tends to pass on work in clubs, preferring concert hall settings.
“I won't say I never play clubs,” he says. “ ‘Never' is a strong word.”
His current album, “Saturday Morning,” was released earlier this month and is made up of seven Jamal originals and three others. It is led by the 10-minute title cut, which is a look at that special time of the week.
“When I started playing it, the title just suggested what the song was about,” he says. “Relaxing. Enjoying the day. Doing grocery shopping. All my compositions suggest to me what they are going to be called.”
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rusted Root will headline the Allegheny County Music Festival
- Kings of Leon cancels Pittsburgh concert
- Country-rock duo Corbin/Hanner ending performance career
- Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble closes season with dramatic revival
- Classics radio still has a home on Western Pennsylvania dials