Bar code: 8427328611183
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Includes a 24-page booklet with an essay by the producer
Ahmad Jamal was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1930. He was a child prodigy. Fritz, as he was known, started playing the piano at the age of three, “…and I've been playing ever since,” he recalled. He began formal classical training at the age of seven and soon was immersed in the influence of various great jazz pianists —especially his idol Erroll Garner. “Everyone in Pittsburgh knew that young Fritz was a piano genius in the late 1940s, when he used to play in the wee hours of the morning in the dingy upstairs lounge of Musicians Local 471,” Harold L. Keith wrote in his column in early 1959 for the weekly Pittsburgh Courier, “...but it seemed that Fritz, like somany others, was destined to remain in the shadows...”
After his professional beginnings in Pittsburgh, he moved to Chicago in 1949, where he fell on hard times, waiting for his union card to be transferred from Pittsburgh to Chicago Musicians Union Local 208. When he finally got it, it would be some time before he landed a good job for the trio he wanted to form. Meanwhile, he would play solo and in various groups until May 1951, when he formed the Fritz Jones trio. Soon after, Fritz became Ahmad Jamal. His drum-less group, Ahmad Jamal's Three Strings, was immediately noted for its disciplined precision. Its dynamism and subtle freshness were hallmarks, and both were evident in great amounts. Legendary producer and writer John Hammond brought the pianist national notoriety through a laudatory article in Down Beat in July 1952. High praise was also offered by musicians, especially Miles Davis, who did not hesitate to say that Jamal was one of his biggest influences.
In this 2-CD set, we can listen to Jamal's remarkable first recordings for the Okeh, Parrot and Epic labels, when his team mates were Ray Crawford on guitar, and successively three great bass players: Eddie Calhoun, Richard Davis, and Israel Crosby. Let's enjoy the captivating and original sound of Ahmad Jamal's Three Strings.
CHOC Jazz Magazine
"C'est en 1953 que Dorothy Wilburn appelle son frère Miles Davis de la cabine du Pershing Lounge de Chicago. Le trompettiste est aussitôt séduit par le trio à l’affiche du club, qu’il entend à l’arrière-plan, The Three Strings du pianiste Ahmad Jamal: luminosité harmonique, sens de l’espace du jeu pianistique, mise en forme admirable de chaque morceau, répertoire peu fréquenté. Il se procure aussitôt ses premiers disques et en reprendra bientôt les morceaux, en quintette, sextette, ou arrangés par Gil Evans: Will You Still Be Mine, The Surey With The Fringe On Top, Billy Boy, Ahmad’s Blues, But Not For Me, AII Of You... Il enjoindra Red Garland et Paul Chambers à écouter Ahmad Jamal et ses bassistes, reprendra ses arrangements (notamment celui d’Autumn Leaves qu’il dicte à Cannonball Adderley sur “Somethin’ Else”). Pas de batterie au sein de ces Three Strings de Jamal, mais un jeu très rythmique de la guitare qui imite souvent le son et le jeu des bongos sur les titres à saveur afro cubaine. Aux faces Okeh (1951-1952) et Epic (1955) sont ajoutées les faces Parrot (1955) peu rééditées, voire inédite en CD pour l’une d’elle (Excerpts From The Blues). Notes discographiques et commentaires soignés par Jordi Pujol sur 22 pages d’un livret élégamment illustré."
—Franck Bergerot (Octobre, 2022)
"Ahmad Jamal, who is still playing in his prime these days at age 92, always had an original style on piano. During an era when many young pianists emulated Bud Powell and filled their solos with rapid single-note lines, Jamal’s use of space for dramatic effect was something much different. His “less is more” approach inspired Miles Davis (who urged Red Garland to play in a similar style), his close interplay with his sidemen by the mid-1950s predated Bill Evans, and his recordings do not sound at all dated 70 years later.
While Jamal’s trio with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernell Fournier during 1957-62 set the standard for his music, they were not his first group to record. The pianist had been a member of violinist Joe Kennedy’s Four Strings in 1948 which also included guitarist Ray Crawford and bassist Tommy Sowell. The group broke up in late 1949 and in 1951 Jamal called his new band The Three Strings. It initially included Crawford and Sowell before Eddie Calhoun took over on bass. The band’s individual identity included Crawford occasionally hitting his hand on the guitar to emulate a bongo, a sound that Herb Ellis would soon utilize with the Oscar Peterson Trio.
The piano-guitar-bass trio recorded eight songs with Calhoun during 1951-52, one four-song session with bassist Richard Davis in 1954, and 25 selections with Israel Crosby in 1955. After that, when Crawford departed, Jamal replaced the guitar with drums and it became known as the Ahmal Jamal Trio.
All of the pianist’s recordings in his trio with guitar are on this imported two-CD set. Jamal’s style is quite recognizable from the start even though it took a few years of struggle for him to build up his audience. Among the highlights are his versions of several songs that he would rerecord with his drums trio a few years later (including his hit “Poinciana”), quite a few numbers that Miles Davis would add to his repertoire (“The Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” “Will You Still Be Mine,” “A Gal In Calico,” “New Rhumba," “Billy Boy,” “All Of You,” “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed,” “Old Devil Moon,” and “Autumn Leaves”) plus such gems as “Perfidia,” “Slaughter On 10th Avenue,” and “Pavanne.” The latter, an adaptation of Morton Gould’s classical piece, has a section that briefly includes what would become the melody (and chord change) of Davis’ “So What” which would not be “composed” for another 3½ years.
This perfectly compiled two-CD box set, in addition to all of the recordings that¡ Ahmad Jamal made before he turned 26, has a definitive 24-page booklet about the group written by label head Jordi Pujol. The Fresh Sound set is highly recommended."
—Scott Yanow (October, 2022)
Los Angeles Jazz Scene
"If there is one musician that had an impact on Miles Davis’ sparse and unique sound, it has to be pianist Ahmad Jamal, who is not only still with us, but still releasing fantastic albums of his still unique sound. This essential two disc set of 37 songs has him with his earliest trios, of Ray Crawford/g and Eddie Calhoun-Israel Crosby-Richard Davis-Israel Crosby/b. And, during a time when most pianists were torrid boppers, Jamal played as if he were paying union dues for each quarter notes, letting space create its own sound, and thereby being an inspiration for the famed trumpeter, who took the idea for his own brand of music, stealing a few songs along the way.
Jamal’s fingers dance on a sublime “Surrey With The Fringe On Top”, are joyful on “Billy Boy” sly and coy for “A Gal In Calico” and resonant on “Ahmad’s Blues”, all songs that Davis eventually recorded in a similar vein just a few years later.
With Crosby on bass, Jamal hits a new plateau, performing his own “New Rhumba” with sleek exotic textures, deep in sepia tones for “Darn the Dream” and “Spring Is Here” and impressionistic on “Pavane”. His first rendition of the classic “Poinciana” is here, and still works without the relentless ride cymbal of the more famous rendition, while an allegiance to Duke Ellington is revealed on covers of “Black Beauty” and “Just Squeeze Me”. Also included is a nice booklet giving you background information on Jamal and these sessions, and it’s quite informative.
There are many theories as to why Jamal’s style has never been taken up by other pianists. It could be similar to the famous quote GK Chesterton said about religion, “It’s not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it’s that it was found difficult and not tried”. At least try it on your ears for a balm from Gilead."
—George W. Harris (August 22, 2022)