Ahmad Jamal, a towering and influential U.S. jazz pianist, composer and band leader whose career spanned more than seven decades, died at age 92 on Sunday, according to news reports.
Jamal’s widow Laura Hess-Hey confirmed his death, The Washington Post reported, while his daughter Sumayah Jamal told The New York Times the cause was prostate cancer. Music news outlets in France and Britain also reported his death.
Jamal was friends with music greats such as Miles Davis, and influenced his work and that of other musicians, including the pianist McCoy Tyner.
Born Frederick Russell Jones in Pittsburgh, Jamal converted to Islam in 1950. He won myriad awards over the course of his career, including France’s prestigious Ordre des Arts and des Lettres in 2007 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.
Jamal was credited with luring a larger pop audience to enjoy jazz.
His playing style was described as lean, with the Post citing his “less-is-more dynamics.” One technique he used to great effect was placing silence between notes.
The New Yorker, writing last year to mark the release of some unissued recordings, said that in the 1950s “his musical concept was one of the great innovations of the time, even if its spare, audacious originality was lost on many listeners.”
Jamal’s commercial breakthrough was a 1958 album entitled “Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me.” It stayed on the Billboard magazine charts for more than 100 weeks. The New York Times said it became one of the best-selling instrumental records of its time.
Dozens more followed in what the Times called “a catalog sprinkled with gems.”
In his autobiography, Davis the trumpeter wrote of Jamal: “He knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, his understatement, and the way he phrased notes and chords and passages.”
In an interview late last year with the Times, Jamal said: “I’m still evolving, whenever I sit down at the piano.”
“I still come up with some fresh ideas,” he added.