Legendary jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal dies aged 92

Ahmad Jamal, a jazz pianist who was credited with influencing the likes of Miles Davis, has died aged 92.

The musical legend was battling prostate cancer at the time of his death.

His daughter Sumayah Jamal confirmed the news to The Washington Post, revealing the pianist died at his home in Ashley Falls, Massachusetts on Friday.

Jamal was born Frederick Russell Jones on July 2, 1930, but converted to Islam in the 1950s.

Accolades across his seven-decade career included France’s prestigious Ordre des Arts and des Lettres in receiving a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

He was also a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master.

Jamal was known for his distinctive playing style, often considered minimalist and featuring silence between the notes.

Learning the piano from age seven, he began touring professionally straight out of high school at 18 with George Hudson’s Orchestra, although his career had officially begun at 14.

Other tours and performances happened with the likes of The Four Strings, Von Freeman and Claude McLin after he moved to Chicago in 1950.

His first recordings came in 1951, with him performing with fellow musical greats including Eddie Calhoun, Richard Davis and Israel Crosby as members of The Three Strings at different time, alongside guitarist Ray Crawford.

Jamal’s mainstream breakthrough came in 1958 with the album At the Pershing: But Not for Me.

The album, which sold over a million copies, stayed on the Billboard magazine charts for a whopping 108 weeks.

It was recorded at the Perishing Hotel in Chicago, which was a favourite hangout of musical stars including Billie Holliday and Sammy Davis Jr.

One of Jamal’s signature numbers throughout his whole career was his eight-minute rendition of the 1930s ballad Poinciana, which featured on the record.

Trumpeter Miles Davis was vocal in citing the pianist as one of his big influences, writing in his 1989 autobiography that Jamal ‘knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, and the way he phrases notes and chords and passages’, according to The Washington Post.

The musician took a break from his career between 1962 and 1964, before returning for albums like Extensions and The Awakening.

In his 80s, Jamal was still making albums, such as 2013’s Saturday Morning.

Just six months before his 90th birthday he also performed at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall in February 2020.

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