Most of the albums we’ve written about so far here have been ones that we have reacquired based on childhood memories, or the tastes of family members that we both somehow inherited. However, part of the fun in picking up new vinyl resides in finding artists completely new to us – in this case, one of the finest jazz pianists the United States has produced in recent decades.
Several weeks ago, a Facebook acquaintance posted a YouTube video of a performance by a jazz pianist with whom I wasn’t previously aware. On a whim, I decided to check out the video and was immediately captivated. The pianist? Ahmad Jamal.
During our recent swing through several record stores, I made a note to watch for albums from Jamal (who, at 87, continues to make music), and was fortunate enough to find several. This one, “At the Pershing: But Not for Me,” was recorded live in January 1958 at Chicago’s Pershing Lounge, and was Jamal’s breakout recording, selling huge numbers (for jazz) and marking what would be a watershed moment for him. While some of the audience sounds can occasionally distract, the mono record nevertheless captures what was undoubtedly a brilliant performance.
The seven-minute plus track, “Poinciana,” was apparently the big hit of the album from what I’ve read, but I have to admit partiality to “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” a wonderfully uptempo take on the standard from “Oklahoma!” that not only features an awesome bass line from Israel Crosby, but some tremendously fluid playing from Jamal that takes my breath away (and makes me envious of such skill).
“Music! Music! Music! (Put Another Nickel In)” provides another showcase for the trio, an arrangement of a 1949 pop hit with more of those flowing keys from Jamal’s gifted fingers, while “Woody ‘N You” (originally by Dizzy Gillespie) simply shines.
Learning about jazz and trying to understand it is an ongoing project for me – definitely worthwhile, but challenging at times. While some have criticized this particular album as too ‘pop’ and/or too mainstream, to me it’s listenable in a way that’s refreshing – clearly jazz, but not so unapproachable that it can’t be shared with others. And, it’s that greatest of thrift store finds – one that may not be valuable in dollars, but will absolutely bring years of cherished enjoyment. That, to me, is what the vinyl hunt is all about.