The Musicians Speak

"I have a thousand melodies in my head, but I don't write them all down.  I write down the jewels.  So when I have a jewel I go into the studio.  Jewels are hard to find--you have to dig."

Ahmad Jamal

"When people say Jamal influenced me a lot, they're right..."

Miles Davis, Miles, the Biography

"Ahmad Jamal is Number One with me!"

Shirley Horn

"Ahmad approaches each song as a composition in itself. He doesn't allow the groove to become stagnant. He'll go into an interlude that changes the mood and then he'll go out of the interlude into a different groove that's even more swinging than the first was. He always gives the impression of having something in reserve. 'Don't shoot everything in one tune and play 50 choruses or it'll all sound the same,' he told me."

Julian "Cannonball" Adderley

"The space that Ahmad leaves in his playing creates a tension that captivates his audience...I tried to practice a trill that he makes look so easy, but I gave up!"

Harold Mabern

"Ahmad is a master at knowing how to draw the ultimate from a musician. He can fit his entire thing--something like Duke--to make you sound a hundred times better. Ahmad is a rhythmic innovator. He never settled for the trend at the time, the straight ahead jazz thing. He always intermixed 'exotic times or feeling' into jazz--rhumbas,tangos--he was able to do all these things and still make it all sound like jazz. I think Ahmad is still developing!"

Vernell Fournier

"Ahmad is a very rhythmic player, which is very challenging. His spontaneity is so stimulating. It's never boring because every night is different. I'm not just backing up a soloist---it's total ensemble in feeling, like playing in an orchestra. The music always dances in spite of what else is happening. It makes you want to move and smile."

Yoron Israel

"I have to keep watching Ahmad's left hand, because I never know what his left hand will do. He's the only one I work with that it's 75% magic. It would be 100% magic if I didn't mess up. I go back to my room and I can't come down for two hours."

John Heard

"I believe in improvisation. All musicians improvise. Even Bach, Mozart and Beethoven improvised. Improvisation and freedom are synonymous. The goal of every musician is to be free, but freedom is rare."

"I'm a wordless storyteller, someone who cares about the dynamics of music...Musical dynamics are human dynamics."

"I've tried every context imaginable, but the trio is the most demanding. It's very difficult to get an orchestral sound out the trio, but we do because I think orchestrally. The trio allows me a lot of space. I can play solo piano, duets with the bassist, drums and piano. Playing at optimum level is the challenge. What's necessary for me is establishing a meaningful statement musically; and my experiences dictate certain musical utterances; and my training and inherent sense of judgment all feed into this. I already know what is happening before I reach the bandstand ninety per cent of the time. The value lies in my skill to interpret a song. It may go better than I planned, in some instances, but it's not going to go any worse."

"I listen to my own music now because I'm busy writing now--I started hearing some things--I'm writing all the time.  When you write you have to listen.  Writing music is very difficult. At a certain level the work begins to dictate itself.   I write the piano score first, then I'll set down a bass line.  Sometimes I'll give the bass the bottom and I'll play subordinate tones.  I use very close harmonies.  I like strong rhythmic ideas, too." 

"It's always exciting for me to sit down at the piano, and every time I do, something new happens, something surprises me, or I surprise myself. I played Poinciana last night and it was like a new song. That's the reason there's no such thing as old music. The wonderful thing about music is that it's ageless."

Ahmad Jamal

"You couldn't hear jazz in Allentown. Then one day I found this album called 'Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal.' I was completely fascinated by it."

Keith Jarrett in The New York Times

"Miles used to study Jamal...Once when we were in Chicago listening to Jamal when he didn't use a drummer, we kept hearing the accent on the fourth beat, but there wasn't no goddam drums up there anywhere! Miles kept looking and noticed that Ray Crawford was hitting the guitar w/his thumb on the last beat, swinging the hell out of the band. Miles said to me, "Joe, if you took your drumstick and hit the rim of the snare on four, it would swing the band to death!"

Philly Joe Jones, drummer (told to Stanley Crouch)

"I think what Miles liked about Ahmad was the level of excitement that he achieved without being obvious. What he does not play allows the listener to be involved on a level that was unprecedented. He was such a very refined use of tension and release that he brings off a roller coaster effect by almost seeming to just let things slowly build to these high points of tension that are released...Ahmad has as must technique as anybody out here and always has had it, but he chooses to play only as much of it as will work. Miles learned from that...(and) the idea of using mausical form as a compositional device, where you take a certain portion of a tune and use it as an interlude, milking all the music possible out of it. Ahmad's appreciation of the bass line was superior. He understood the function of the bass line to such a degree that he allowed the sound of the band to function as a whole."

Todd Coolman, bassist

 " ...Thank you for your musical legacy and for challenging the limits of what has been, is and will be in the future of piano playing.  Everytime I hear you play, you sound more amazing than the last time."

Jason Lindner

"...Profound use of space within the ensamble--Ahmad Jamal, Ellington, Sonny Rollins, let the drummer breathe within a rhythm section...(referring to early trio with Israel Crosby, bass and Vernell Fournier, drums)...I began to appreciate not only the way each piece was arranged, but how free Ahmad was within the arrangement...and the thing that still kills me to this day about Ahmad--the most beautiful tone, the sound that he got out of the piano--effortless of the great piano sounds.  This is one of the two great piano trios of all time...the conversational aspect and the quality of the playing...the feeling...with Ahmad, it's not only the impeccable groove, but the sense of humor and space, and it's just that no other trio has done what Ahmad's trio did."
Fred Hersch, speaking with Ted Panken on WKCR-FM, New York City