Ahmad Jamal Dies: Cool Jazz Pioneer Was 92

Ahmad Jamal, the pianist and band leader who helped pioneer the influential style that would come to be called cool jazz, died Sunday of prostate cancer at his home in Ashley Falls, Mass. He was 92.

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His death was announced by his daughter Sumayah Jamal.

“All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal,” trumpeter Miles Davis once famously said, just one of many musical icons and jazz devotees who credit Jamal with impacting the direction of the form away from the speed and busyness of bebop toward a more spare approach.

Jamal often described his playing style by saying he honored the spaces between the notes, a less-is-more approach that in the 1950s was initially dismissed by critics as superficial cocktail lounge music.

The record-buying public disagreed, and Jamal’s 1958 album At the Pershing: But Not for Me spent an unprecedented two years on Billboard’s album chart. The freeform, relaxed but intensely rhythmic stuyle would be cited by later generations of jazz pianists like Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett as a major influence. Clint Eastwood included two tracks from the album for inclusion on the soundtrack of The Bridges of Madison County.

In all, Jamal released more than 60 albums throughout his career.

Jamal was a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. In 2017 he received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy alongside Charley Pride, the Velvet Underground and Sly Stone, among others, for contributions to music history.

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