Felix Lamouroux interviewed Ahmad Jamal about his work, life and
future at the Philharmony of Cologne, Germany.
Mr. Ahmad Jamal
Do you listen to your own music?
Itís about all I listen to. I donít listen to a lot of music, Iím
very particular about what I listen to. I listen to my own music
more now than any other because Iím busy with writing now. Iím
in a very productive phase of my life Ė Iím writing all the time
now. Iíve started two compositions since Iíve been in Cologne. I
started writing as soon as I got to the hotel Ė I started hearing
some things. So Iím listening a lot to my own thing, cause Iím
writing a lot, and when you write you have to listen.
And what other music do you listen to?
I listen to many many things, I may listen to Ravel, I may listen to
Flamenco guitars from Spain Ė I listen to many things, but I donít
listen to much, cause Iím too busy and a lot of the stuff out
there I donít like. There are many things I donít wanna listen
to at all. Theyíre not musical to me. I only listen to things that
And what fascinates you most about Jazz?
What fascinates me most about Jazz is the confusion about
the world itself Ė thatís what fascinates me. The confusion Ė
because to me there is no such thing as Jazz! Duke Ellington never
called himself a Jazz musician. Count Basie never called himself a
Jazz musician. And thatís what fascinates me Ė the way we have
sophisticated such an unsophisticated term. We have made it very
sophisticated but the term itself was unsophisticated and never
intended to become this sophisticated. They call this music Jazz Ė
It is not Jazz, itís American Classical Music Ė thatís what it
is, or whatever you want to call it. I call it American Classical
Music Ė I started this term!
What is the challenge in playing American Classical music?
To me itís the greatest music challenge in the world.
Because in order to play so called Jazz you have to know Debusy, you
have to know Duke Ellington you have to know Ravel you have to know
Liszt you have to know Count Basie you have to know Art Tatum you
have to know all these forms. You have to know the best of both
worlds. The musician whose playing first violin in a symphony is one
dimensional, he only has to know one thing. We have to be
multi-dimensional, we have to know all these forms in order to be
successful. You have to know Mozart... A classical example is
Marcelus. You will never find this type of person in the so called
classical community. You can only find such people in the Jazz
community, because we are multi-dimensional. So in the sense we are
the superior musicians Ė people donít like me to say that but itís
the truth, cause we have to know all forms. Thatís why Art Tatum
was so fascinating to many so called classical players because he
was so technically proficient beyond comprehension. Fats Wallum Ė
beyond comprehension. And it goes on and on Ė Benny Goodman he
also was multi-dimensional, and he preferred to do so called Jazz
Ė he preferred to be with Teddy Willson, Lionel Hampton, Gene
Looking in the dictionary under Jazz you will find:
Improvised music Ė What is the difficulty about improvising ?
Every musician improvises Ė Mozart improvised. So thatís
another misconception. They think improvisation is just for Jazz Ė
thatís crazy. All musicians improvise what makes it a permanent
record is when they write it on manuscript Ė otherwise itís
improvisation. It comes out of their mind. Bach was improvising
Liszt was improvising. There is much of Mozartís work you never
gonna find cause he never wrote it down. There is no musician who is
able to write down everything what comes out of his mind! Now there
are sections within the written form where you become a solist. Thatís
another aspect of improvisation. But you are a solist at that point,
and you do your improvising as a solist and you donít have time to
write down everything you are playing as a solist Ė So this is the
fascinating thing about Jazz. You have Improvisation within
Are you religious? And does it influence your music in any
Isnít anyone religious?
Does it influence you and your music?
Of course it is influencing me. Any philosophy invades the whole
body, mind, spirit. Thatís first! What I think philosophically itís
nummero uno Ė itís the most important thing. Without that is
nothing. I donít want a doctor performing an examination on me
that doesnít believe in anything. Thatís an inferior doctor. I
donít want to be anybody that has no believe, that believes that
thereís nothing but him or her!
He believes in himself!
Itís impossible to have confidence without some believe. You can
not be confident if you have not established a believe in the
creative Ė you have to have believe in something thatís
controlling the universe Ė a power that controls the universe. And
itís not you itís not me itís not Bill Clinton or Jelzin.
How strong do you think is your influence in other
What do you think how strong it is? You should know more about that
than me! Iím too busy with myself to think of my influence on
other musicians. I donít know if Iím influencing. I want to
influence me Ė but if I am influencing somebody out there Ė
What was the best album youíve ever recorded?
One of my best recordings "Jamal in Paris" Ė
these are the two best. Itís a wonderful recording! I love it! It
has the energy that you donít hear nowadays on recordings. As the
same energy that was captured on jealous at the philharmonic with
Norman G. He used to record everybody on location. He recorded Art
Tatum, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald etc.
You canít get that energy in the studio! You can only get it on
Where are you living now?
Iím living in the country upstate in New York! Living
there is very quiet and tranquil Ė thatís good for working! I
In what way have you been influenced by African and
I think inharitly Ė I donít concentrate on thinking in
terms. I started playing when I was three years old. Thatís very
young - so everything I heard goes in my brain. Music universal Ė
I played Cuban, I played Brazilian, I played American, European,
Chinese, middle Eastern Ė all concepts. All these tonalities are
in my head anyway, so inharitly I play like that!
The album ĎNatureí was a great success! Are you
already working on a new album after this Paris album?
Not consciously. No. I do not go in the studio often. Itís
difficult to think in terms like going in a studio. I only go in a
studio when I feel like it! I donít say: I make this right now! I
donít believe in going to a studio to make a record Ė thatís
stupid. You go to a studio when you have something to say that means
something! You have nothing to say Ė donít go to the studio!
Donít you have something to say?
I always have something to say. But it has to be strong enough for
me to say: OK this is it! You have to have something strong enough
to go to the studio! If I have something thatís not strong enough
Ė I donít write it!
I have a thousand melodies in my head, but I donít write them all
down. I write down the jewels. So when I have a jewel I go to
studio! Jewels are hard to find Ė you have to dig!
Whatís your philosophy for live and music?
Try to increase your knowledge every day! Everything depends
on the knowledge that one possesses. You have to increase it. And
you have to have correct knowledge. Not negative knowledge, just
positive knowledge. Thatís the way you gonna make it in this
world. An example is a doctor: he wants to save people Ė so he has
to study! A teacher: if you want to teach kids you have to study,
because if you donít teach a kid proper you may make a monster out
Do you think that music has got a message?
Always! Music shapes the philosophy of the population Ė What would
the world be without music? Could you imagine a world without music?
But look at the stuff they write now! To call this stuff music is
horrible! Itís creating a Frankenstein monster. You put two
infants in a room, who never heard anything! One of them you feed
with Rock, Punk, Acid all these forms that has nothing to do with
music. The other one you feed with Duke Ellington, Ravel, Debussy,
Count Basie, Art Tatum, Billy Holiday, Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson
etc. Which is gonna come out as a Frankenstein monster and which as
a little angel?
So music can shape the philosophy of the people. Thatís why itís
so important that we start becoming serious because there is to much
stuff which is not good for the spirit, for the heart and itís not
good for the ears.
For what are they recording this? Because itís making money? Crack
is making money too! Crack was sold more than Madonna or the Rolling
Stones, but that doesnít make it right!
Why do you think people are listening so much to this
Because thatís what is given to them! If people only know the neck
of a chicken theyíll throw away the rest! If they only know the
neck, they think itís the best part of the whole. So people are
subject to the power structure Ė the people at the top. And
because they accept this they accept all this bad music and the
other junk! Itís crazy!
And why do you think some musicians are making such bad
Not the musicians are running the record business - The
lawyers run the record business! And itís produced because people
donít care about anything but money. But do you know what make the
record business? Ė People like Louis Armstrong or Nat King Cole.
At the beginning of every record company there was a Louis Armstrong
or a Dave Brubak and no Rolling Stones or Beatles. But although
people like Art Tatum, Duke Ellington or John Coltrane are dead the
music is still out there, and it sells without being promoted! And
itíll be also there when all the junk is forgotten. But nowadays
some people are sick Ė we got sick people who want the illusion.
Thank you for this interview Mr. Jamal