This piece was originally published on FYIMusicNews.
I was age 16 in 1962 when my brother Wayne, 15, and pal Charlie Craig, 16, and I were given the opportunity to open for Wes Montgomery at the old Ports of Call, a refurbished barn in Louisville, Ky. The event facility was on this occasion known as the Arts in Louisville. Why this is important to this interview is because of what was playing on the hi-fi system at the time. The owner was hooked on three recording artists: Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson and, most notably, pianist Ahmad Jamal and his exquisite recording At the Pershing: But Not for Me. Lou Rawls was singing about the Windy City and the grinding poverty of Tobacco Road. Nancy Wilson’s words hung in the smoke-filled club like teardrops with no destination: Never Will I Marry and Guess Who I Saw Today. And in between, the most perfect piece of music to ever enter my brain: Poinciana, played as a hybrid Latin rhythm with numerous elegant refrains. As much as we stayed focused on the opportunity to open for the greatest guitarist on planet jazz, my concentration had been abducted by those three recordings. All I wanted from this evening was to hear those magnificent artists played over and over again. By evening’s end, pianist Ahmad Jamal was my new hero. I spent the days ahead circling record bins and convincing my dad that we needed to expand the six-record collection. And that he did. Jamal was a favourite of Miles Davis, a pianist with ample technique and taste with a right hand that could make a melody or slight improvisational pattern sing like a seasoned vocalist. Each note is carefully considered and delivered with the touch of a classically trained musician, yet never restrained by notes imprisoned on a score. The perfect pianist. Here’s my conversation with Jamal back in 1990. He has released more than two dozen recordings since then, the latest being 2016’s Marseille.