Jazz world mourns the loss of innovator Ahmad Jamal, pioneer of ‘Cool Jazz

Legendary jazz pianist and composer Ahmad Jamal, whose minimalistic and restrained playing laid the groundwork for “cool jazz,” has passed away. 

The OG ‘Cool Jazz’ pianist and composer Ahmad Jamal, born Frederick Russell Jones, has passed away at the age of 92, according to his wife Laura Hess-Hey, as reported by The Washington Post. The cause of death has not been disclosed.

Jamal was a true innovator in the world of jazz, known for his minimalist and restrained style of playing that laid the groundwork for the development of “cool jazz.” He was perhaps best known for his arrangement of the jazz standard “Poinciana,” which appeared on his best-selling 1958 album Live at the Pershing: But Not For Me, and the 1970 Ahmad Jamal Trio album The Awakening.

Ahmad Jamal

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jamal began playing piano at the tender age of three. He went on to study under Mary Cardwell Dawson, a noted singing instructor and founder of the National Negro Opera Company, at the age of seven, and pianist James Miller during his early teens. By the time he was 17, Jamal was touring with George Hudson’s Orchestra. In 1951, he moved to Chicago and formed his first trio, the Three Strings. The group was discovered by John Hammond, who signed them to Okeh Records. Later that same year, Jamal released his first album as a bandleader, Ahmad’s Blues, on the label.

Jamal and the Three Strings became the house trio at Chicago’s Pershing Hotel in 1958, and it was during their residency there that they recorded the now-legendary But Not For Me. Throughout his six-decade career, Jamal released over 70 albums, ranging from solo piano work to jazz trios to collaborations with string quartets. His last album, Ballades, was released in 2019.

Jamal’s influence on the jazz world was far-reaching and enduring. His 1970 album The Awakening, featuring Jamil Nasser on bass and Frank Gant on drums, has been sampled in tracks by Gang Starr, Shadez of Brooklyn, and Nas. Miles Davis also considered Jamal a huge influence, writing in 1989, “I have always thought Ahmad Jamal was a great piano player who never got the recognition he deserved.”

Since the news of Jamal’s passing broke, musicians and fans from around the world have shared tributes online in his honor. Jazz group Badbadnotgood tweeted, “Rest in peace Ahmad Jamal. Thank you for your contributions to music and paving the way for so many of us.” Christian McBride, a bassist and composer, tweeted, “Ahmad Jamal was one of the most innovative and influential pianists in jazz history. A true original. R.I.P.”

Jamal’s wife, Laura Hess-Hey, has requested privacy during this difficult time. The jazz world mourns the loss of a true pioneer and legend, whose music will continue to inspire and influence generations to come.