From Bill's Desk

The Living Legend of Jazz Makes His McCarter Debut—At Age 89!

What becomes a legend most?  How often do we get the chance to experience an artist who gives new meaning to the word? Legends come and go to the point where the phrase “living legend” all too easily lapses into cliché. But in the jazz world there is only one true “living legend” still active amongst us: a man who observes his 89th (!)  birthday on July 2nd ; a man who started playing the piano at the age  of three, and is still going strong today –86 years later; a pianist  who calls jazz “America’s classical music”. His name? Ahmad Jamal.

How can one put a career like his into words?  Here is an artist whose influence has transcended time itself, and who continues to represent generations of jazz when his colleagues were giants who walked the earth and today are just names to us on a CD. Men and women like Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charlie  Parker, Benny Goodman,  Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, Errol Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck—an historic legacy that continues right down to their contemporaries of more  recent times, like Wynton Marsalis, Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock.  Jamal’s  influence over fifty years on the art of jazz improvisation and his contribution to the evolution of the “cool jazz” movement  is indisputable and legendary (that’s that word again!), and stretches across generations, from the big-band era to be-bop to cool jazz, and  even to today’s electronic styles.

The fact that Ahmad Jamal is an NEA Jazz Master goes without saying–you could almost say they created the award in his honor. Ditto a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (in itself an understatement) and a Kennedy Center Living Legend (there it is again!). And lo and behold, he is still making records (his latest CD Marseille, came out last year) but jazz fans of any age will remember his theme song Poinciana, from his 1958 release At the Pershing: But Not For Me, which put him on whatever maps he was not already on.

When Jamal comes to McCarter for the first time ever on May 18 (unbelievable, I know), joining him will be three longtime associates who are coming from all over just to play with him on what is his only concert in the northeastern USA this year: the New Orleans-based drummer Herlin Riley; James Commack on bass; and the Puerto Rican-born percussionist Manolo Badrena

It’s all too easy to say you may never get this chance again. With masters who have endured like Ahmad Jamal, it is never safe to say never. All I can do is urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to join me as we add a great artist to McCarter’s jazz heritage.


SATURDAY, MAY 18, 2019

Ahmad Jamal

This living legend of jazz’s influence on the art of improvisation is indisputable, stretching across generations from the big-band era to bebop to cool jazz to electronic styles. These days, Jamal reserves his rare live appearances to “special occasions” – and McCarter is lucky enough to be one of them.