Jazz fans were left in mourning this past weekend after legendary pianist, composer, and arranger Ahmad Jamal passed away at the age of 92.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Jamal died Sunday of prostate cancer at his home in Ashley Falls, Massachusetts.
Born Frederick Russell Jones in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the musician changed his name to Ahmad Jamal upon converting to Islam when he was 22.
Jamal recalled his introduction to music during an interview with the podcast "Jazz on the Tube," saying, "At 3 years of age my wonderful Uncle Lawrence stopped me while I was walking past the piano in my parents' living room."
"He was playing the piano and challenged me to duplicate what he was doing. Although I had never touched this or any piano, I sat down and played note for note what I had heard. The rest is history," Jamal added.
The Times noted that Jamal began taking formal lessons at age 7 and had his first public performance at a local Pittsburgh club when he was just 11 years old.
"I can’t remember the place," Jamal was quoted as telling Boston Globe contributor Marian Christ. "I only remember that people threw loads of money on the bandstand."
Jamal went on to study classical music under concert singer Mary Cardwell Dawson and pianist James Miller in high school, joining the musician's union at 14.
His first recording came in 1951 as part of a trio known as the Three Strings which put out an original song called "Ahmad’s Blues."
Jamal's career stretched on for decades, with the jazz musician performing well into his 80s. This included a 2018 gig at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in Costa Mesa, California.
"I’ve toured enough. I’ll only go out on the road on occasion," Jamal told the Times. "That’s it for me. I don’t travel like I used to. I’ve traveled the last 70 years. I started when I was 17. That’s enough, right?"
He also offered advice to young musicians, saying, "If you can’t find a venue, then teach for a while. And if you can’t teach, then write for a while. Go to school and increase your knowledge."
Tributes to Jamal quickly appeared on social media, including from The Jazz Estate, which tweeted that "Jamal made a lasting mark on jazz with a stately approach that honored what he called the spaces in the music."
We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of pianist and composer Ahmad Jamal.
Jamal made a lasting mark on jazz with a stately approach that honored what he called the spaces in the music. His minimalistic and restrained playing laid the groundwork for the cool jazz idiom. pic.twitter.com/w4HNMaNwtD
— The Jazz Estate (@thejazzestate) April 17, 2023