Ahmad Jamal: Four Classic Albums

Double-CD set collects four Jamal LPs including At The Pershing, which sold 47,000 at a time when 15,000 was big news for a jazz album


There has been a glut of reissues recently of Ahmad Jamal’s live sessions from the 1950s and 1960s, a glut that will no doubt increase following the pianist’s death in April this year. This two-CD set, however, is one of the more obvious reissues, in that the four albums collected here have all acquired classic status.

Two of the four were recorded at the Pershing Hotel in Chicago in 1958 and two more at Jamal’s own short-lived Alhambra club in Chicago in 1961, all featuring his star trio of Israel Crosby on bass and Vernel Fournier on drums.

It’s worth remembering just how big an impact Jamal was making at this point in his career. At The Pershing: But Not For Me was indeed “a nationwide hit”, as Jet magazine stated. Downbeat reported that its sales by August 1958 were more than 47,000, at a time when any jazz album selling 15,000 copies was big news, and it stayed on the Billboard Magazine 200 album chart for 107 weeks (some sources say more than two years), reaching number 3.

By 1994 the National Endowment for the Arts could confidently state the But Not For Me had sold more than a million copies. And, of course, it featured a stand-out single in Poinciana.

What also stands out is that while there might be three years between the two live sessions, the continuity is marked. Still the same leisurely pace, the unhurried approach to each phrase, the always supportive and melodic drums and ever-thoughtful bass. And, of course, Jamal’s own impeccable sense of swing and touch. This music might be all too familiar to some of us, but it remains a delight.

CD1: [At The Pershing: But Not For Me] But Not For Me; Surrey With the Fringe On Top; Moonlight In Vermont; (Put Another Nickel In) Music, Music, Music; No Greater Love; Poinciana; Woody ‘n You; What’s New; [Jamal At The Pershing Vol 2] Too Late Now; All The Things You Are; Cherokee; It Might As Well Be Spring; I’ll Remember April; My Funny Valentine; Gone With The Wind; Billy Boy; It’s You Or No One; They Can’t Take That Away From Me; Poor Butterfly; [Ahmad Jamal’s Alhambra] We Kiss In A Shadow; Sweet And Lovely (78.07)
CD2: [Ahmad Jamal’s Alhambra] The Party’s Over; Love For Sale; Snowfall; Broadway; Willow Weep For Me; Autumn Leaves; Isn’t It Romantic; The Breeze And I; [All Of You: Live at Alhambra] Time On My Hands; Angel Eyes; You Go To My Head; Star Eyes; All Of You; You’re Blasé; What Is This Thing Called Love (75.13)
Jamal (p); Israel Crosby (b); Vernel Fournier (d). CD1: [At The Pershing] Live, Pershing Hotel, Chicago, 16 January 1958; [Jamal At The Pershing Vol 2] Live, 17 January 1958; end of CD1 and CD2: [Ahmad Jamal’s Alhambra, All Of You] Live, Alhambra Club, Chicago, June 1961.
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