Ahmad Jamal and Eugene Redmond lecture at the University of Connecticut
- 1974 March 19
Composer Ahmad Jamal and poet Eugene Redmond delivered a lecture on 3/19/1974 (2015-0002/RR187).
Biographical / Historical
Jamal was born Frederick Russell Jones in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on July 2, 1930. He began playing piano at the age of three and began formal piano training at the age of seven with Mary Cardwell Dawson. His Pittsburgh roots have remained an important part of his identity and it was there that he was immersed in the influence of jazz artists such as Earl Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, and Erroll Garner. Jamal also studied with pianist James Miller and began playing piano professionally at the age of fourteen, at which point he was recognized as a "coming great" by the pianist Art Tatum.
Jamal began touring with George Hudson's Orchestra after graduating from George Westinghouse High School in 1948. He joined another touring group known as The Four Strings, which disbanded when violinist Joe Kennedy, Jr. left. In 1950 he moved to Chicago and performed intermittently with local musicians Von Freeman and Claude McLin, and solo at the Palm Tavern, occasionally joined by drummer Ike Day.
Born to Baptist parents, Jamal discovered Islam in his early 20s. While touring in Detroit, where there was a sizable Muslim community in the 1940s and 1950s, he became interested in Islam and Islamic culture. He converted to Islam and changed his name to Ahmad Jamal in 1950.
He made his first records in 1951 for the Okeh label with The Three Strings (which would later also be called the Ahmad Jamal Trio, although Jamal himself prefers not to use the term "trio"): the other members were guitarist Ray Crawford and a bassist, at different times Eddie Calhoun (1950–52), Richard Davis (1953–54), and Israel Crosby (from 1954). The Three Strings arranged an extended engagement at Chicago's Blue Note, but leapt to fame after performing at the Embers in New York City where John Hammond saw the band play and signed them to Okeh Records. Jamal subsequently recorded for Parrot (1953–55) and Epic (1955) using the piano-guitar-bass lineup.
The trio's sound changed significantly when Crawford was replaced with drummer Vernel Fournier in 1957, and the group worked as the "House Trio" at Chicago's Pershing Hotel. The trio released the live album, At the Pershing: But Not for Me, which stayed on the Ten Best-selling charts for 108 weeks. Jamal's recording of the well known song "Poinciana" was first released on this album.
After the recording of the best-selling album But Not For Me, Jamal's music grew in popularity throughout the 1950s, and he attracted media coverage for his investment decisions pertaining to his "rising fortune". In 1959, he took a tour of North Africa to explore investment options in Africa. Jamal, who was twenty-nine at the time, said he had a curiosity about the homeland of his ancestors, highly influenced by his conversion to the Muslim faith. Upon his return to the U.S., the financial success of Live at the Pershing: But Not For Me allowed Jamal to open a restaurant and club called The Alhambra in Chicago. In 1962, The Three Strings disbanded and Jamal moved to New York City, where, at the age of 32, he took a three-year hiatus from his musical career.
In 1964, Jamal resumed touring and recording, this time with the bassist Jamil Nasser and recorded a new album, Extensions, in 1965. Jamal and Nasser continued to play and record together from 1964 to 1972. He also joined forces with Fournier (again, but only for about a year) and drummer Frank Gant (1966–76), among others. Until 1970, he played acoustic piano exclusively. He continued to play throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in trios with piano, bass and drums, but he occasionally expanded the group to include guitar. One of his most long-standing gigs was as the band for the New Year's Eve celebrations at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., from 1979 through the 1990s.[
Redmond is a famous and prolific poet and professor having written or edited over 25 volumes of poetry, diverse writings, plays, and the posthumously published works by Henry Dumas. Redmond's most well-known piece of literature is Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry. Redmond has won a large amount of awards for this contribution to poetry including an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, American Book Award, an Honorary Doctorate from SIUE, and many more.
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_Jamal / https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/ahmad-jamal-at-the-pershing-interview/]
1 Reels (Magnetic tape audio recordings) : RR 187 1 reel, Side A-1:14;47, Side B-0:16:12; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester. The recordings were combined for ease of listening. The combined run time of the digital recording is 1:30:55.
Existence and Location of Originals
Original audio recordings reside in the University of Connecticut, Black Experience in the Arts Collection, Archives & Special Collections, UConn Library.
- African American composers Subject Source: Fast
- African American educators Subject Source: Fast
- African American jazz musicians Subject Source: Fast
- African American musicians Subject Source: Fast
- African American poets Subject Source: Fast
- African Americans Subject Source: Fast
- African Americans in popular culture Subject Source: Fast
- Black Experience in the Arts Course (University of Connecticut) -- Sound recordings Subject Source: Local sources
- Pianists Subject Source: Fast
Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository
University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US