Ahmad Jamal

January 24, 2023

Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963-1964
Jazz Detective DDJD 004

Ahmad Jamal
Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1965-1966
Jazz Detective DDJD 005

He was famous during the 1950s and 1960s as Miles Davis’ favorite pianist who also made hit records. He was also denigrated by some as a cocktail-style pianist whose popularity depended on adding a Jazzy swing to simple tunes. Today Ahmad Jamal’s detractor have almost disappeared as the Pittsburgh-born pianist’s career intensified. At 92, his craftmanship is universally acknowledged. Prime examples of his art, the two CDs that make up each of these sets offer abiding evidence of his mature skill. Recorded at a Seattle night club during the height of Modern Jazz’s popularity, the 19 extended performances give the pianist ample space. Although two different bassists and three different drummers are featured the instantly identifiable Jamaal tropes and tricks are all there, no matter the backing.

By this point though the rhythm section members weren’t back-up musicians, but partners in musical elaboration, with defined places available to struct their stuff, albeit within the Bop-Swing framework. Also the Jamal oeuvre was in a process of rejuvenation at that time. The majority of the sets may have been given over to Jamal’s reorchestration of pop tunes, some of which never made it past their creation in the pre-Rock 1960s, but the trio’s repertoire was steadily expanding. Not only are bone fide Jazz classics here, but also featured are trio originals, some composed by Jamal, others by bassist Richard Evans, later a prolific Chicago-based Jazz, Pop and Funk arranger/composer. The first tune heard is Rogers and Hart’s 1937 songbook classic “Johnny One Note” and the last, recorded three years later, Benny Golson’s Jazz standard “Whisper Not”

In between, the Jamal trio bounce from reinterpretation of “But not for Me” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” to reimagining Anthony Newley’s minor tune “Feeling Good” as a contrafact of “Work Song” featuring a strong bass part and quotes from “Aquarius” and “Summertime”. The trio backs into “Johnny One Note” with drum rolls, string strums and subtle tempo acceleration from the pianist that torques swing and excitement. Meanwhile “But Not For Me” transcends nightclub swing with keyboard rolls and cymbal accents as theme variations darken. The hard Blues swing of Johnny Hodges “Squatty Roo” is emphasized with a walking bass line and brawny glissandi and is completed by a call-and-response section between pianist and drummer.

Evans’ compositions such as “Minor Adjustments” and “Bogota” give the trio an opportunity to try out unexpected arrangements. The latter depends on push-and-pull variations with Jamal’s pedal work and quick keyboard jabs complementing the composer’s string snaps and the pianist introduces more asides as the tempo doubles. In contrast, “Minor Adjustments” begins with a pseudo-Baroque line, throws in a quote from “Lullaby of Birdland” and is kept in constant motion with keyboard shakes and boogie runs before returning to bowed-bass semi-classicism.

Not usually thought of as a composer, Jamal also shows off a maturing talent as one here. “Minor Moods” is an exercise in constant motion that alternates between pinpointed variations and expanded glissandi elaborations. Sophisticated high-note shading adds to the dramatic outflow as does a parade-ground-like drum solo which brings back the initial theme. Staring off quietly, “Concern” is a theatrical but softer piece that moves upwards for piano glissandi and downwards for a walking bass solo and finally concludes in full swing mode with a keyboard quote from “Fascinating Rhythm” emphasized with cymbal accents.

Jamal’s playing was in top form in the mid-1960. You can experience it here in a live setting.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1963-1964: CD 1: 1. Johnny One Note 2. Minor Adjustments 3. All of You 4. Squatty Roo CD2: 1. Bogota 2. Lollipops & Roses 3. Tangerine 4. Keep On Keeping On 5. Minor Moods 6. But Not For Me

Personnel: 1963-1964: Ahmad Jamal (piano); Richard Evans [CD1] or Jamil Nasser [CD2] (bass) and Chuck Lampkin (drums)

Track Listing: 1965-1966: CD1: 1. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was 2. Who Can I Turn To? 3. My First Love Song 4. Feeling Good CD2: 1. Concern# 2. Like Someone In Love# 3. Invitation* 4. Poinciana* 5. Whisper Not*

Personnel: 1965-1966: Ahmad Jamal (piano); Jamil Nasser (bass) and Chuck Lampkin [CD1] Vernel Fournier# or Frank Gant* (drums)