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. Ahmad Jamal Interview Highlights - Ahmad Jamal complements Eric for being a real pro. - Ahmad Jamal speaks on wanting to have musicians in his band that can establish great empathy in the music. - Ahmad Jamal speaks on the first time having a drummer in his band that uses fours sticks at once. - Ahmad Jamal expresses his views on old music, bad music and good music. - Ahmad Jamal shares insight into his principles on making good records. - Ahmad Jamal shares insight into how Charlie Parker breathed new interpretations into old standards and the need for musicians to record their own music. Summary and select metadata for this record was submitted by Leonard Brown.
ERIC JACKSON INTERVIEW WITH AHMAD JAMAL
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.
It’s always my pleasure, Eric
Yeah, it’s always good to see you back here and to hear your
piano singing out like it does, too.
Someone was complimenting your show today, about you being
so informed and such an articulate…etcetera, etcetera
I agree. It’s always a pleasure
Thank you, thank you. Well, what have you been doing?
Well, you’ve been doing it a long time. You’re a real pro.
What have I been doing?
We just finished a big, big tour with a bunch of guys: Hank
Jones, Kirk Lightsey, Billy Higgins, Diane Schur, and Kenny Washington and
That was Philip Morris?
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
Now when you do these tours, is there someone who is the
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.
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.
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.
So who is the drummer you are using?
Last week I used Lenny Robinson, who is a fine drummer from
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.)
OK, so it is still a search process.
Yeah, because you have to have a special person to do what
we are doing.
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?”
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.
Do you have a percussionist too?
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
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?
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.
I’m trying to imagine the sound…is it a much thicker,
fuller sound with the four sticks?
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.
Now what is happening with Atlantic Records or with
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.
No, still beautiful.
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 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.”
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.
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
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”.
OK, so here is a man who brings back a tune that is, what,
thirty years old?
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.
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?”
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…
Horace Silver is doing exclusively his compositions?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Well, don’t get tired of us because we’re coming back
Ok, no I will not get tired of you. We’re going to go out
with Ahmad Jamal’s classic, “Poinciana”.
TRANSCRIBED BY LEONARD BROWN