open Vault

WGBH Media Library and Archives

Eric In The Evening: Ahmad Jamal Interview

  • Cite

Summary
Beginning in 1969, Eric Jackson hosted multiple jazz radio shows airing from various Boston based radio stations. He moved to WGBH in 1977 as host for “Artists in the Night”. In 1981, Eric created his own show, “Eric in the Evening”, which now airs on WGBH radio.
Topics
Jamal, Ahmad, 1930-, Jackson, Eric, Jazz Musicians, Jazz Radio Programs, Interviews, Music Industry
Tags (0)
Add Tag Add Annotation

Poster

Transcript

:
ERIC JACKSON INTERVIEW WITH AHMAD JAMAL
Jackson:
And for about the last twenty-five minutes or so, we have been listening to some piano work from Ahmad Jamal, from his album called Cristo, we heard “Piano Solo 11”, and then from Rasuder Road, we heard “Autumn Rain”. Ahmad Jamal on Steinway piano, with James Cammack on bass, Herlin Riley on drums, and Manolo Badrina on percussion. We opened up with a couple of things from his Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival, 1985 album. We heard “Footprints”, Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and then on into, I think, Jack DeJohnette’s “Ebony”, with Ahmad Jamal on piano, James Cammack on bass, Herlin Riley on drums and Sel Newton on percussions. And we are pleased and honored to have Ahmad Jamal here in the studios with us. Welcome back.
Jamal:
It’s always my pleasure, Eric
Jackson:
Yeah, it’s always good to see you back here and to hear your piano singing out like it does, too.
Jamal:
Someone was complimenting your show today, about you being so informed and such an articulate…etcetera, etcetera
Jackson:
Is that right?
Jamal:
I agree. It’s always a pleasure
Jackson:
Thank you, thank you. Well, what have you been doing?
Jamal:
Well, you’ve been doing it a long time. You’re a real pro. What have I been doing?
Jackson:
Yeah.
Jamal:
We just finished a big, big tour with a bunch of guys: Hank Jones, Kirk Lightsey, Billy Higgins, Diane Schur, and Kenny Washington and my group.
Jackson:
That was Philip Morris?
Jamal:
Yeah and we were in about fourteen countries and did twenty-six concerts. Kind of whirlwindish, to say the least, but very enjoyable. In fact, I wouldn’t mind…this is my second tour and it is very well orchestrated and certainly a lot of mileage from it, educationally and otherwise.
Jackson:
Now when you do these tours, is there someone who is the featured artist?
Jamal:
It is actually equal billing. I think perhaps Diane Schur was more or less the headliner. In most respects, it was equal billing. Superband 15, Superband 16, Superband 17, like that. Every tour year, the number changes so next year it will be Superband 19, 20, 21, whatever. Johnny Griffin was on the bill with a trio and was playing so well and Curtis Fuller and my dear and wonderful friend James Moody. So it was great. And two – three great bassists; mine is James Cammack, who is a great bassist, and David Holland and George Mraz, who is also splendid, so it was a great tour.
Jackson:
Now James Cammack is the bassist working with you at the Regatta Bar this week too. You were going through some personnel changes as far as the drummer was concerned.
Jamal:
Yeah and I’m still looking for a permanent chair there. This week I am using a man who engineers in Woodstock and I don’t know who I am going to be using next week.
Jackson:
So who is the drummer you are using?
Jamal:
Last week I used Lenny Robinson, who is a fine drummer from Washington.
That’s a very good question. Harvey….I can never remember Harvey’s last name…it is very hard for me to remember that. (Editor’s note: AJ does not recall the last name of his current drummer.)
Jackson:
OK, so it is still a search process.
Jamal:
Yeah, because you have to have a special person to do what we are doing.
Jackson:
As I was listening to your music, I knew that the last time you were here, you talked about changes in the personnel with the drums. And I thought that one of the things I think about when listening to Ahmad Jamal’s music is cohesiveness…tightness. Now I’m thinking to myself, “I wonder what he feels about that?”
Jamal:
It has to be “shrink wrapped”. I like to have that empathy that only comes from working together for long periods of time so, interesting enough, it seems as when I open here I always open with the newest member because I opened here with Dave Bowler a couple of years ago – that was his first night here - along with Willie White, so it seems the Regatta Bar plays havoc with my group members.
In fact Harvey, the gentleman who is working with me now, plays very interesting drums. I have never seen anyone with four sticks at the same time. I have been out here for a long time and this is the first time I have seen a person play with four sticks.
Jackson:
Do you have a percussionist too?
Jamal:
Oh yeah. Well, my percussionist has been around with me for ten, eleven years, in and out. See, I use several guys. Sometimes I use Kenny Nash when I go on the (West) coast. The person I have used the most is the person with me now, Seldon Newton. When I went to the trip abroad, I used Iraj Lashkary, who is in California. One of my favorite percussionists is Azzedin Weston. I have a bunch of guys that I draw upon percussively.
Jackson:
The reason I ask you about the percussionists when you talked about the drummer with the four sticks, I wonder how much the four sticks changes the sound of the drums; how much a percussionist might say, “Hey he’s playing my instrument”. Do you have problems with that?
Jamal:
Well, it’s the first time I ever saw the guy.
Harvey plays some interesting things. Jack DeJohnette introduced me to Harvey and he plays like Jack in certain respects.
Jackson:
I’m trying to imagine the sound…is it a much thicker, fuller sound with the four sticks?
Jamal:
Well, it’s more of it…twice as much I guess. Actually, depending on how cautious a person is as far as dynamics are concerned, I don’t think Harvey was playing loud. It is very interesting. It evoked a smile on James’ face because he hadn’t seen it before.
Jackson:
Now what is happening with Atlantic Records or with recording?
Jamal:
Well it’s been interesting. You know I haven’t come up with any new products so I guess Eric is tired of playing the old things.
Jackson:
No, still beautiful.
Jamal:
There is no such thing as “old music”. We had a discussion about that in Japan, Eric. We had a Japanese journalist that attacked a bunch of the guys about, “Are you going to play old things”? But I told him, “There is no such thing as old music; there’s some kid trying to learn Mozart right now…some three or four year old kid and there’s some three or four year olds trying to learn Duke Ellington. OK?” Be it Berklee or be it in Amsterdam somewhere, so there is no such thing as old music. Either good or bad music. But the point you want me to address or the question that you asked me that I am going to eventually answer... I haven’t gone into the studio. Like Roberta Flack, she is with Atlantic also and of course, Roberta hasn’t done anything in four years. She just released a new recording. I am approaching that time frame, not quite as long but you know, I‘m not going into the studio just to do another piece of product. It doesn’t make sense, because I have enough product out here to last me the rest of my life, although I don’t want to think in terms of that. But until I go in with a meaningful project, Eric, I’ m just not going to do it. You know. When something profound enough hits me, then I will go in and do it.
Jackson:
It is interesting you use that term. I heard Stan Getz speaking at the Jazz Times conference out in Los Angeles and he made a statement - and I understood the context you were making your’s in. But he made a statement, “I don’t make product, I make records for documentation.” And I think of that in context of what you say and you’re saying…”Until I’ve got a project that’s worth while.” So I take it as you saying sort of the same thing. “I’m not here out to make a product to be sold but it’s a piece of my music, it’s my creation and when I’ve got something new to offer in that line, then I’m going into the studio and offer it.”
Jamal:
That’s correct. Once it’s out there, you can’t retrieve it. You have to be very careful. I don’t go into the studio to make hit records. I go into the studio to make good records. If it’s a good record, even if two people buy it, it’s a hit in my mind. I hope that two hundred or three hundred thousand (buy it), but if it’s a good record, it’s a hit record as far as I’m concerned.
Jackson:
You talk about “old music” and I think certainly a classic of yours, “Poinciana”. There are loads of others I am sure, certainly in the last few years. You recorded that while you were under Atlantic, I think?
Jamal:
I did a session that Atlantic eventually bought; that’s how I got with Atlantic, from Digital Works that we did another reprieve, or whatever you want to call it, of “Poinciana”.
Jackson:
OK, so here is a man who brings back a tune that is, what, thirty years old?
Jamal:
Probably older than me, the song is probably older than me but I revived it after…I sort of resurrected it because it had mellowed down, of course. And our recording was such a sensation, so well received and of course, the writers went bananas. They were hugging me and everything. I guess so because the royalty statements to them were wild. I am just sorry it wasn’t my composition.
Jackson:
I understand. What I really see is how you did originally take an older composition and breathed new life into it. It wasn’t old when you finished with it. It was bright and new and sparkling and there are probably loads of people who never heard “Poinciana”, who sat and listened and said, “Wow! This is great! What is this new piece of music I am listening to?”
Jamal:
Well, you know it is interesting because if you really think and reflect and look upon the careers of Lucky Thompson and Don Byas and Lester Young and all the other artists when we weren’t doing our own compositions, we are doing more of our own compositions now. Horace Silver does exclusively his compositions…
Jackson:
Horace Silver is doing exclusively his compositions?
Jamal:
Yes, Horace doesn’t do anything but his compositions, yes. He has always been there and he is very smart.
That’s why he doesn’t have to work forty weeks out of the year. And you look upon the careers of most of us, if you look upon the so-called jazz musician, he is interpreting those old standards more accurately and with more feeling, especially in the case of Charlie Parker. Those songs that Charlie Parker – those songs that were outside of his original compositions – the interpretation just breathed new life, new fire, new everything, new concepts into all those old standards. They all got another life span because of the so-called jazz artist approach. I mean the way they did things and they way we do things really is remarkable.
Jackson:
You know it is interesting you point out that Horace Silver doesn’t play anybody else’s compositions. I remember Herbie Hancock, this is years ago, used to be sort of making the call for jazz musicians to play other people’s compositions. He said, “Look everybody plays The Beatles tunes, but if I say “Maiden Voyage” to the average person, if you are not a fan of the particular artist that did that tune, you get a blank”. So he came from another point of view to encourage playing each other’s tunes to help popularize each other’s tunes.
Jamal:
Very very appropo too, because now that is the thing we try. Ninety percent of my performances now constitute my own compositions. In the fifties and sixties, it was seventy-five/twenty-five; now it’s ninety and ten.
Jackson:
You obviously, over the course of the years, you have been writing more and now you have a much bigger book of your compositions to choose from, too.
Jamal:
Yeah and a little more business sense, because the Atlantic lp, the one that sold so many, had everyone’s songs but my own. I didn’t even take a free ride for one of my compositions. I did well for Dizzy because I put “Woody ‘n You” in there. So Dizzy was very happy about that, but I did none of my own compositions and that was a big mistake.
Jackson:
Well, we live and learn. Ahmad, I know you have to get back over to the club, but I want to thank you for stopping by.
Jamal:
Well, don’t get tired of us because we’re coming back again, Eric.
Jackson:
Ok, no I will not get tired of you. We’re going to go out with Ahmad Jamal’s classic, “Poinciana”.
Jamal:
Thank you Eric.
END OF INTERVIEW
TRANSCRIBED BY LEONARD BROWN
Enter the timecode: