June 25, 2008


Ahmad Jamal (born Frederick Russell Jones, was born on July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A child prodigy who began to play the piano at the age of 3, he began formal studies at age 7. While in high school, he completed the equivalent of college master classes under the noted African-American concert singer and teacher Mary Caldwell Dawson and pianist James Miller. He joined the musicians union at the age of 14, and he began touring upon graduation from Westinghouse High School at the age of 17, drawing critical acclaim for his solos. In 1950, he formed his first trio, The Three Strings. Performing at New York's The Embers club, Record Producer John Hammond "discovered" The Three Strings and signed them to Okeh Records (a division of Columbia, now Sony, Records). He began using the name 'Ahmad Jamal' after his conversion to Islam in the early 1950s.

Considering his trio "an orchestra", Mr. Jamal not only achieves a unified sound, but subtly inserts independent roles for the bass and drums. The hallmarks of Mr. Jamal's style are rhythmic innovations, colorful harmonic perceptions, especially left hand harmonic and melodic figures, plus parallel and contrary motion lines in and out of chordal substitutions and alterations and pedalpoint ostinato interludes in tasteful dynamics. He also incorporates a unique sense of space in his music, and his musical concepts are exciting without being loud in volume. Augmented by a selection of unusual standards and his own compositions, Mr. Jamal impressed and influenced, among others, trumpeter Miles Davis. Like Louis Armstrong, Mr. Jamal is an exemplary ensemble player -- listening while playing and responding, thus inspiring his musicians to surpass themselves. Audiences delight in Mr. Jamal's total command of the keyboard, his charasmatic swing and daringly inventive solos that always tell a story.

In 1951, Mr. Jamal first recorded Ahmad's Blues on Okeh Records. His arrangement of the folk tune Billy Boy, and Poinciana (not his original composition), also stem from this period. In 1955, he recorded his first Argo (Chess) Records album that included New Rhumba, Excerpts From The Blues, Medley (actually I Don't Want To Be Kissed), and It Ain't Necessarily So -- all later utilized by Miles Davis and Gil Evans on the albums "Miles Ahead" and "Porgy and Bess." In his autobiography, Mr. Davis praises Mr. Jamal's special artistic qualities and cites his influence. In fact, the mid-to-late 1950's Miles Davis Quintet recordings notably feature material previously recorded by Mr. Jamal: Squeeze Me, It Could Happen To You, But Not For Me, Surrey With The Fringe On Top, Ahmad's Blues, On Green Dolphin Street and Billy Boy.

In 1956, Mr. Jamal, who had already been joined by bassist Israel Crosby in 1955, replaced guitarist Ray Crawford with a drummer. Working as the "house trio" at Chicago's Pershing Hotel drummer Vernell Fournier joined this trio in 1958 and Mr. Jamal made a live album for Argo Records entitled But Not For Me. The resulting hit single and album, that also included Poinciana -- his rendition could be considered his "signature". This album remained on the Ten Best-selling charts for 108 weeks -- unprecedented then for a jazz album. This financial success enabled Mr. Jamal to realize a dream, and he opened a restaurant/club, The Alhambra, in Chicago. Here the Trio was able to perform while limiting their touring schedule and Mr. Jamal was able to do record production and community work.

Clint Eastwood featured two recordings from Jamal's album But Not For Me — "Music, Music, Music" and "Poinciana" — in the 1995 movie The Bridges of Madison County.

Renair Amin was born September 13, 1975 in Philadelphia, Pa. Renair wears many hats. A prolific author, her works have appeared in various publications including GBF (Gay Black Female) Magazine, SABLE Magazine (of which she is a board member) and DEEP HUES e-zine. She has also been a featured columnist on the Nghosi Books, Femme Noir, Sistahs for Sistahs and Soulful Pen Xpressions websites and also appears in the Nghosi Books anthology, Longing, Lust & Loving.

As a spoken word artist, Renair has performed nationally, gracing the stage in cities including Rochester, NY, New York City and her hometown of Philadelphia, PA. She is also active in her church’s ministry. A member of Unity Fellowship in Brooklyn, N.Y., Renair is co-chair of the Performance Arts Ministry and chair of the David’s Poetry Ministry.

Recently, Renair Amin added entrepreneur to her list of talents with the forming of Pmyner, Ltd., a company created to provide services to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender literary community. The website includes an online community forum and a radio station, Invisible Verse Radio, on which she hosts Myne Myc, a talk show showcasing LGBT spoken word artists, musicians and other community-related issues.

When I asked Renair what inspires her writing she responded, “My inspiration for writing is living. Whenever I had no one, I always had a pen.”
She currently resides in Bronx, NY.

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