Mr. Jamal's 'About My Life' story in his own words:
At three years of age, my wonderful Uncle Lawrence stopped me while I was walking past the piano in my parents' living room. He was playing the piano and challenged me to duplicate what he was doing. Although I had never touched this or any piano, I sat down and played note for note what I had heard. “The rest is history.”
What a thrilling ride it has been and continues to be. I was born in one of the most remarkable places in the world for musicians and people in the arts - Pittsburgh, PA. At seven years, I was selling newspapers to Billy Strayhorn's family. Billy had already left home; I didn't get to meet him until years later.
Following is a partial listing of “Pittsburghers:”
Earl “Fatha” Hines
Joe Kennedy, Jr.
Mary Loe Williams
George Hudson (his orchestra was my first job away from home, I was 17 and just out of high school.)
At seven years of age I began my studies with a wonderful woman, Mary Cardwell Dawson. In addition to her great influence on me, she was very influential in the careers of many musical personalities on a local, as well as worldwide basis. One of her students is my life long friend, violinist, Joe Kennedy, Jr. Later, while still in my teens, I began studying with James Miller, as a result of Mrs. Dawson's relocation to Washington, D.C.
After touring with George Hudson's Orchestra, I traveled to Chicago with The Four Strings, a group headed by violinist, Joe Kennedy, Jr. Unfortunately, the group disbanded because of a lack of employment and in 1951, I formed The Three Strings.
The year 1951 was the beginning of my recording career. “Ahmad's Blues,” which I wrote in 1948 during my stint with a song and dance team out of East St. Louis, was one of my first recordings; “Ahmad's Blues” has been heard in the stage play, “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” and recorded by Marlena Shaw, Natalie Cole, Red Garland and others. The first session also included my arrangement of the folk tune, “Billy Boy,” which arrangement was copied by many of my peers. I wrote “New Rhumba” around 1951 and it has also been recorded and performed by many others, most notably Miles Davis. My most famous recording was done in Chicago in 1958 at the Pershing Hotel with two of the most talented musicians of the century, Israel Crosby and Vernell Fournier.
“I would like to be a scholar in whatever I do, a scholar is never finished, he is always seeking and I am always seeking.”
“You've got a big, big problem if you get caught up in what people say. If you're gonna live for what people say, you might as well lay down and forget it. Because it doesn't work that way.”
Just a few of the many awards Ahmad has received to this day……
Living Legends Award
- The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington DC - March 3, 2007
- OFFICIER DE L'ORDRE DES ARTS ET DES LETTRES
Fait á Paris, Le 14 Mars 2007
Named Officer in French Order of Arts and Letters, March 14, 2007
- Steinway & Sons 150 Years Celebration (1853-2003), June 6, 2003
Arts & Culture Recognition Award
- National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., February 24, 2001
Award, American Jazz Masters Fellowship
- National Endowment of the Arts, 1994
Duke Ellington Fellow Award
- Yale University, March 20, 1994
Key to the City of Providence (Rhode Island)
- Mayor, Vincent A. Cianci, Jr., 80's
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