Pianist Ahmad Jamal, one of the most important small ensemble players of the 20th century whose clean, understated style was said to have influenced Miles Davis, was born on this day (July 2) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1930. He turns 89 years old.
As a pianist and composer, Jamal is known for his evocative use of dynamics and Zen-like embrace of silence. He can be thunderous and percussive one moment and soft and delicate the next, and the tension between these moods makes for riveting listening. Case in point: “Poinciana,” our Song of the Day and one of Jamal’s most popular recordings. Texturally, the tune has a little bit of everything: rippling, watercolor chords; shimmering melodic fragments in the upper register; and spiky percussive jabs in the mid-range. It’s all tied together by Jamal’s infectious left-hand bass line, which works in tandem with drummer Vincent Fournier’s rumbling beat to create one of jazz’s most infectious grooves.