Ahmad Jamal passed at his home in Ashley Falls, MA at the age of 92. Born Fredrick Jones in Pittsburgh in 1930, Jamal began playing piano as a teenager and moved to Chicago following high school. He would eventually convert to Islam during this period and changed his name to Ahmad Jamal.
By 25, he released his debut album Ahmad Jamal Plays. Three years later, he would release his magnum opus, the live album But Not for Me, recorded at the Pershing nightclub in Chicago. The album would spend two years on the Billboard charts which was uncommon in the 1950s. He would eventually become a leading figure in the jazz music movement, inspiring the likes of Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner.
Thirty years later, Jamal would also play a key role in inspiring the sound of hip-hop. His melodic piano riffs were sampled by key figures in hip-hop such as Nas, Jay Z, De La Soul, Common, J.Cole and more.
Nas’ “The World Is Yours” samples “I Love Music” by Ahmad Jamal Trio. Another song by Nas, “I Gave You Power,” samples Jamal’s “Theme Bahamas.” De La Soul sampled Jamal’s “Sawhililand” for their hit, “Stakes is High.” Jay Z used a sample of Jamal’s “Pastures” for his song, “Feelin’ It.” Common’s “They Say” samples Jamal’s “Ghetto Child.” And J.Cole sampled Jamal’s “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” for his song “ATM.”
Although hip-hop artists sampled Jamal’s work, he never truly retired from his first love. He released over 60 albums which includes the most recent release, Ballades, in 2019.
He’s been honored with a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master award; a lifetime achievement honor from the Recording Academy; and a Living Jazz Legend designation from the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.
Listen to Ahmad Jamal samples below: