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Two Mave The Masked Jedi - Remember Ahmad Jamal and His Incredible Legacy?

Remember Ahmad Jamal and His Incredible Legacy?

A Tribute to the Cool Master of Modern Jazz Piano

Two Mave The Masked Jedi 23/04/2024

Enter the late great Ahmad Jamal, the Immortal Cool Jazz Icon

Here it is fellas, we are back for a slightly melancholic tribute, a heartfelt homage to a great jazz musician, the cool Master of Modern Jazz piano, the late great Ahmad Jamal.

He died last year, on April 16, 2023. Possibly one of the last jazz musicians to have experienced the past century’s Fifties, a convulsing and dynamically pulsating moment in the history of modern music, Ahmad Jamal was also one of the last living examples of a golden age of jazz long gone now, a period so obliterated by the distance in time and society that we can hardly make any sense of it now.

Ahmad Jamal: A Pioneer of Modern Jazz Piano

Jamal began touring in the late Forties of the past century but rose to fame only during the late ‘50s. The music industry was much the same in its worst underbelly, but at the same time so aesthetically different that its features are unrecognizable now.

Society was different, and the booming optimism that followed the war was soon counterbalanced by the contradictions of a ruthlessly capitalist society still mired in segregation and racism despite the liberal freedom openly professed. All these contradictions were further enlarged and deepened by the obscurantist anti-communist wave propelled by McCarthyism after the late ‘40s.

Like its time and society, jazz was changing too, and quite rapidly at that. Black musicians were shaking off the image of Jazz as popular music or even as a controlled form of escapism, which brought about the definitive demise of the “swing era”, and possibly some unwanted attention by the repressive apparatuses of the American State.

Ironically, this process affected Ahmad Jamal too. It could seem ridiculous to us now, but after he published perhaps his most famous recording, “At the Pershing” (recorded live at Chicago’s Pershing Lounge in 1958), which scored him great popularity, he was also often dismissed by jazz writers and sometimes other musicians for being too mainstream, a cocktail pianist.

Nevertheless, Jamal was hardly a “forgettable cocktail pianist”. Alongside Bill Evans, he was amongst the few who remodelled the modern jazz piano by radically pruning unnecessary ornamentation and ad-lib virtuosity, making it acquire a new original super cool approach. He was well aware of the necessity of a better grasp on more spaced-apart tempos, where silence was determinant to avoid the previously typical almost “baroque” rhythms.

As writer Ted Gioia in his book said, “Jamal was a harbinger of the future of jazz”. There is nothing overly dramatic, no sentimentalism in Jamal’s music, but a restrained emotion and well-dominated swing; no funkiness (in the modern, sometimes vaguely hysterical sense of the word) but an orchestral design of his vision, a cool mood underpinned by refined phrasing.

Ahmad Jamal’s Influence on Contemporary Music: The Expansion of a Legacy

He vastly contributed to smoothing the rough edges of jazz piano ballads, making a foothold on a broader following among the general public. That said, the newly achieved commercial viability of his music – and the following public success – wasn’t the antechamber of an artistic involution hinging on sycophantic musical attitudes, no matter how ill at ease critics were with his recordings.

Quite the opposite. Being polished didn’t mean losing a jazzy edge to Ahmad, whose prolific output is an incredible legacy of subtlety and intricacies in texture and harmonics. No wonder even Miles Davis admitted Jamal’s influence and inspiration over his musical trajectory – period.

Ahmad Jamal seminal albums for Hip-Hop collage

Ahmad Jamal’s Journey Through Hip-Hop

During his career, in the late Sixties through the early Eighties, Jamal kept pace with musical and technical innovations. He experimented with electronics, performing in various settings, with sounds easing down on new musical tendencies without brutal opportunism. Jamal’s output from this era has been extensively sampled by Hip-Hop producers in the Nineties.

Ironically, of the tracks we’ve mined out to compile this mixtape, only but few use Ahmad’s recordings of the Fifties, and most of them, like Pete Rock did for Nas’s masterpiece “The World is Yours”, came out from a very limited bunch of albums made in the 1970s. The Ahmad Jamal Trio’s “Awakening” album has been pillaged by producers, being the basic ingredient for as many incredible hits – check WhoSampled.

Undoubtedly, in the early Nineties, Jamal’s music was appealing to boom-bap and hip-hop producers for his use of chords, thunderous scales and primordial loops that created luxurious textures to adorn pulsating rhythms, in pure boom-bap aesthetic. It suffices to check tracks like “Soliloquy of Chaos” and “The Illest Brother” from GangStarr’s third album “Daily Operation” to have a primordial example of Jamal’s adoption. DJ Premier is probably the first producer to introduce inner-city kids to Ahmad’s music via sampling.

Ahmad Jamal’s Legacy: A Timeless

Let’s present the musical content that we are providing to your speakers, to make a wrap. Simply put, I admit that originally I wanted to avoid the most obvious choices, as I hoped to present something ultra-original, and lesser known. The harsh reality is that in this specific case, you can’t do that. The most obvious is far too important.

So here you have “The World is Yours”, alongside Fat Joe’s “Da Shit Is Real” in all its Preemo’s bubbly-but-dark boom-bap glory. Nevertheless, I did manage to throw in some rarities and beauties from all over the World. Like Dj Celory’s take on O.C.’s “World…Life”, a gem straight outta Japan. Sendai-based Gagle, the group of Dj Mitsu The Beats, also gifted us a remarkable production using Ahmad Jamal jazzy piano.

Canadian hip-hop group Specifics, based in Montreal, saw their album published in Japan, so they stand as co-opted by Nippon forces here. Going back to the States, we have a song from the underground classic first album of Binary Star, as well as a glimpse of All Natural’s rugged but jazzy flavour. Dilated Peoples and Ugly Duckling are all cool and California, while Shadez Of Brooklyn provides one of the most well-known and sought-after records out there.

Europe is represented too, starting from the Manchester-based Children Of Zeus who made a little jewel with their song, down to an unceremoniously forgotten French Mc, Fabe, quite famous during the ‘90s but here with a song from his last album. Canadian Mcee Citizen Kane made a genuine classic EP in 1997, reaching an almost cult status within the underground of those years. Unsurprisingly, we can find traces of Ahmad Jamal’s music even there.

This tribute mixtape is once again compiled by yours truly, 2Mave (you all remember those dedicated to Decon Records or Ill Boogie Records, right? If not, it’s time to follow these links, folks). The technical composition enjoys the support and expertise of our head honcho.

Enjoy the tracklist and happy digging.

Ahmad Jamal Legacy Tribute: A 90s Hip-Hop Mixtape

01 Happiness – Children Of Zeus
02 The Gambler – Citizen Kane
03 Moonlight [part 2] – Jinsang
04 That’s Just Gold – Specifics
05 Change – Shadez Of Brooklyn
06 The World Is Yours – Nas
07 Pay Attention – Dilated Peoples
08 Do You Know What I’m Sayin’ – Ugly Duckling
09 Word…Life (Dj Celory Mix) – O.C.
10 Renaissance – All Natural feat. Lone Catalysts
11 In All the Wrong Places – Kero One
12 Da Real (Dj Premier Rmx) – Fat Joe
13 都合良く憩う – Gagle
14 Court’s in Session – Ghetto Children
15 Conquer Mentally – Presto feat. Large Professor, O.C., Sadat X
16 Changer le Monde – Fabe
17 New Hip Hop – Binary Star
18 Yes Ya’ll Interlude – The Deli