Today jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal celebrates his 82nd birthday, presumably near Montauban, France, where he will play a gig tomorrow. In fact, he'll spend most of the month in France, The Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland and Turkey doing what he does best: pouring himself into his enchanting music.
Since the early 1950s, Jamal has been a driving force in jazz, profoundly influencing a number of musicians including Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Jamal's earliest recording sessions were with piano, bass and guitar; he soon replaced the guitar with drums. In each of these formats, Jamal's approach was groundbreaking. In an essay on Jamal, the great critic Stanley Crouch wrote, "Through the use of space and changes of rhythm and tempo, Jamal invented a group sound that had all the surprise and dynamic variation of an imaginatively imagined big band."
Though Jamal occasionally works with larger groups, string sections and orchestras, it is the jazz piano trio format that he revolutionized and continues to explore. As a birthday salute to one of the true masters of jazz, here are five selections from Ahmad Jamal's staggering and ever-expanding body of small-group work.