Pittsburgh jazz legend Ahmad Jamal shines in Manchester

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MASTERY—Playing the Steinway he dedicated 40 years ago, jazz virtuoso Ahmad Jamal, lays down a groove against Herlin Riley’s drum work during his sold-out show at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.

 

If one were to go by legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal, 83 must be the new 63. He doesn’t look it. He doesn’t act it—and judging by the power, precision, delicacy and rhythmic mastery he displayed at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild,  Sept. 28, he can play rings around pianists who are 43.

Joined by bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Herlin Riley and percussionist Manolo Badrena, the Pittsburgh native put on a 90-minute show that left the audience alternately bobbing their heads and dropping their jaws at his and the quartet’s tonal and polyrhythmic interplay.

 

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FASCINATIN’ RHYTHM—Pianist Ahmad Jamal crosses his arms and listens to the rhythmic interplay of bandmates from left; Manolo Badrena, Herlin Riley, and Reginald Veal.

 

And interplay it was, with all four, especially Badrena, smiling in acknowledgement of each other’s contributions during the eight-song set, which featured compositions from Jamal’s newest CD, “Saturday Morning” as well as variations on themes by artists ranging from George Gershwin to Count Basie.

After an impressive, up-tempo, 10-minute opening jam that allowed Jamal to introduce the band members with brief solos from each, they launched into the melodic and impressionistic title song from the new release. They also played “Silver” a tribute to pianist Horace Silver.

 

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REALIZING A VISION—Manchester CEO Bill Strickland tells the audience he fantasized about creating a space to allow jazz to work its magic since he was 14 years old.

 

Standing ovations were the rule rather than the exception, and given that the audience was peppered with more than a dozen Pittsburgh Jazz Legends who were honored at a reception prior to the show, the response to the energy coming from the stage was undoubtedly deserved.

MCG Jazz Executive Producer Marty Ashby, who has played with practically all of the Legends at one time or another over the years, thanked them all before the show for all they’ve done.

“Because of you, the legacy of Pittsburgh jazz is unparalleled anywhere in the world,” he said. “And because of your generosity, it is being carried on by the young musicians you’ve inspired.”

 

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JAZZ ROYALTY—Newly inducted Pittsburgh Jazz Legends Etta Cox, Al Dowe, Kenny Blake,  Michelle Benson and Jim Guerra pose with previous inductees prior to the Sept. 28 Ahmad Jamal concert. (Photos by J.L. Martello.)

 

Ashby then asked them to stand—Warren Watson, Art Nance, Charles “Chuck” Austin, Roger Humphries, Nelson Harrison, Harold Betters, George “Duke” Spaulding, Joe Dallas, Frank Cunimondo, Don Aliquo, James Johnson, John Wilson, Cecil Brooks—then he introduced the newest inductees, Jim Guerra, Etta Cox, Al Dowe, Kenny Blake and Michelle Bensen.

Some of those attending the pre-concert VIP reception, hosted by Manchester CEO Bill Strickland and his wife, Rose, took photos with the Jazz legends between sampling the gourmet spread of cheeses, fruits, shrimp, oysters and bacon-wrapped canapés, and a seasonally flavored punch of Cranberry, apple and vodka in cinnamon-sugar rimmed glasses.

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