A quick note: some of you may have read this story already, in print or online; aggregating my work at one site can lead to this sort of thing. Apologies to those of you for whom this is not new.
On the night of January 16, 1958, at the Pershing Lounge in Chicago, Ahmad Jamal sat down to play piano. He was joined, as he had been on many nights previous, by Israel Crosby on bass and Vernell Fournier on drums. The three were artists in residence at the Pershing, and had been playing together for months.
On that Thursday night, though, Jamal’s performance would change a few things. It would change how people thought about jazz. It would change the way musicians approached their craft. And it would change how I thought about my father, albeit after he died, by becoming part of a gift he gave me.
It was a gift we never talked about, one he gave unknowingly, one I did not realize the value of while he was alive. But it was a gift all the same as I’ll explain in a moment. For now though, all you need to know is that January 16 was the night that Ahmad Jamal’s performance of “Poinciana” was recorded.
The song had been a standard in Jamal’s repertoire for long before the recording was made, and as I have no friends that were regulars at the Pershing in the late 50s I have no way of knowing if that particular night’s rendition was in some way different from those that came before or those to follow.
But that’s irrelevant; the fact that it was recorded and released on vinyl made that night’s performance incredibly important. Because that’s what would allow it to reach well beyond the confines of the Pershing, and last far longer than the few minutes it took to play. Continue reading