Jazz piano legend Ahmad Jamal has died at the age of 92. The pioneering musician, who was known for his minimalistic playing and compositions that explored space, time and dynamics, passed away at his home in Ashley Falls, Massachusetts on Sunday, 16th April.
The news was confirmed to The Washington Post by his longtime agent Maurice Montaya, who said Jamal died of complications from cancer.
Ahmad Jamal Performs ‘Poinciana’ Live in 2012
Jamal was born Frederick Russell Jones in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1930. He began playing piano at the age of three. He studied under Mary Cardwell Dawson at the age of seven and pianist James Miller in his teens, beginning to play professionally at 14.
After leaving high school, Jamal began touring with jazz orchestras. He moved to Chicago in 1950, forming his own group – the Three Strings, later known as the Ahmad Jamal Trio – the following year. He put out multiple records in the late 50s as a bandleader, joined by bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier.
It was around this time he put out arguably his most well-known work, an arrangement of jazz standard ‘Poinciana’ which appeared on his 1958 live album At the Pershing: But Not for Me. Over the ensuing decades, he led bands that included bassist Jamil Nasser, drummer Frank Gant, guitarist Calvin Keys and more.
The iteration that included Nasser and Gant recorded one of Jamal’s most acclaimed albums, 1970’s The Awakening. The album had a lasting impact both on jazz as well as hip-hop culture: artists including Nas and Common have sampled tracks from The Awakening in their own work.
Jamal received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy in 2017. His most recent album was 2019 Ballades, which includes a solo piano version of ‘Poinciana’ – the song that brought him fame all those years ago.