Poetic tributes to Ahmad Jamal

April 21st, 2023

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I received several poems devoted to the pianist Ahmad Jamal, who died on April 16 at the age of 92.  Here is a sampling…

-Joe

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The cover of Ahmad Jamal’s 1958 live album, At the Pershing [Universal Music Group]

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Ahmad Jamal

Like his music,
the name slides
smoothly into
a blissful space,
a serene coolness.

Ahmad Jamal,
spoken like
a delicate sigh
that fills the air
with the perfume
of a Poinciana.

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by Russell duPont

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Ahmad Jamal on a Rainy Day

Beauty can be found in anything, even rain;

kids walk outside after a storm
and the streets are slick as the chords you play
I have always been about music
I have tried to find the melody in
everything; even a waterfall tells a
story

music breathes life to dreams
and gives beauty to a world
that is constantly molested and assaulted
by agendas, propaganda and
dogmas

An asian practices tai-chi in a park
marrying herself into morning
i listen to you playing, ripping the
mask off evil

and see a lovely lady smiling at me
with a face that is jazz

Like you Ahmad, I can find beauty
in anything

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by Erren Kelly

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Listening to the Ahmad Jamal Trio, Live at the Pershing (January 16 and 17, 1958)

Thirteen and a half months old. Your
two blistering sets those frozen nights in January
1958 at the Pershing Lounge. 64th and Cottage Grove.
Just 3.4 miles from my crib. Not crib
as in my pad. But my actual crib. To think
I may have even been pissing my pants
at the exact moment of the applause
when you kicked it off with “But Not for Me.”
But it was for me, Ahmad. Somehow. Somehow
working its way into my baby body cells
just down the street at 62nd and Hermitage
on Chicago’s South Side. What carries through air
are birds of song and birds of prey. What carries through
the ether could be chords of light
bees give out when they hum flower
to flower. Or reproduce in moans so low
the human ear lies down to sleep, believing
it is no longer needed. I may have been
awake. My days and nights mixed up at that age,
my mother told me. Perhaps to hear you more clearly
in my crib or playpen? Among blocks with giant, painted letters
and strange, new sounds I tried to take into me
and bring out through my mouth. Somehow. Somehow knowing
the Word you carried was what I had recently fallen from,
all the way from the astral into yet another human form
of forgetting. This time, I promise. This time, Ahmad,
I will not forget. The piano soothe
of your notes. Tonight, much older. Somehow
the years have crept in without my knowing
even the nature of my name. Or whether the owl’s hooting
by the river is trying to tell me not just the water
is a mirror. Or whether a Pythagorean
musica universalis could even crack the mad mathematics
of my moon-drenched moods. But I’m listening again—
—this time on CD—to what my human ears can detect
and waft into all I have not yet touched. Somehow. Somehow, I know
there is no good way to follow that sentence. To extend the wrangling
restlessness of its reach. So I thank you, Ahmad Jamal. Israel Crosby.
And Charles Fournier. For dropping into me
for a visit on a frozen 1958 night—among the bitter drifts
of Chicago’s South Side—and, again. Into me. Now.

 

This poem previously appeared in Gargoyle, No. 75, Summer 2022

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by George Kalamaras

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My Heart Thirsts

for a beat

…………wants to keep

the one it has

……..the one keeps it moving

but

……………………….wants percussion,

……..like that groove

………………….Vernal Fournier fashioned

when Ahmad Jamal

…………………….played Poinciana

between…………………….. sets

…………………………….a club in Chicago

back in ’58

…………………………….a Latin beat

yes

………………………makes me listen

dares ………………………………..me to

duplicate

………………captures

…………………………my soul.

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by James Higgins

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Soft Sounds
……(for Ahmad Jamal)

Soft sounds move the gentle air
As hands glide
Over the ebony and ivory
Extending beyond the moment.

Its Poinciana,
The song of the trees
As other hands briefly
Join and caress.

It is almost a response and
Reflection of the loveliness
Of the coming future
When our memories become more.

The first of many times
That the soft sounds of that
Special place
That completed us as lovers,

The glide of the player’s hands
Will always
Be ours together
The Poinciana.

And the song continues on as softly.

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by Joe Potts

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Russell duPont is an artist and an author whose artwork is included in a number of public and private collections. He has published two novels, King & Train and Waiting for the Turk; two books of poetry; and two non-fiction chapbooks. His essay, “The Corner,” is included in the anthology Streets of Echoes. His work has been published in various newspapers and literary magazines. He was the founder & publisher of the literary magazine, the albatross.

Visit his website by clicking here

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James Higgins was born in Texas, and currently lives in Oregon. He has had poems that placed or won in Oregon Poetry Assn. contests, and while he has not submitted poetry in many years, he is now seriously pursuing publication. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he studied poetry with Ralph Salisbury, and earned a BA in English literature. His work has appeared in Terra Incognita, Beyond Words, and Jerry Jazz Musician.

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photo by Jim Whitcraft

George Kalamaras is former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014– 2016) and Professor Emeritus at Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he taught for thirty-two years. He has published twenty-three collections of poetry, fourteen full-length books and nine chapbooks. His latest book is To Sleep in the Horse’s Belly: My Greek Poets and the Aegean Inside Me, a 300-page chronicle of George’s Greek ancestry—literary, artistic, and familial (Dos Madres Press, 2023).

 

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Erren Kelly

Erren Kelly is a three-time Pushcart nominated poet from Boston whose work has appeared in 300 publications (print and online), including Hiram Poetry Review, Mudfish, Poetry Magazine, Ceremony, Cacti Fur, Bitterzoet, Cactus Heart, Similar Peaks, Gloom Cupboard, and Poetry Salzburg.

Click here to read “Under Quarantine” — COVID-era poetry of Erren Kelly, published by Jerry Jazz Musician

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Joe Potts is a native of Boston, educated at Northeastern University (BA/MBA), where he also taught for 33 years. He was also an executive in the finance industry for many years.

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Listen to the 1958 live performance of Ahmad Jamal playing “What’s New” (with Israel Crosby, bass; and Vernel Fournier, drums) [Universal Music Group]

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