Off-Ramp

Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Ahmad Jamal In LA Next Weekend! Go!

This man's piano playing will scramble your brains, add colors, lights, herbs and spices, and feed them back to you through your ears.


Ahmad Jamal is one of the undisputed great jazz pianists. He is nearing eighty. Don't put off seeing him play. A few years ago, he was coming to LA fairly regularly, playing at the Jazz Bakery and Catalina's, but lately he's been doing concert venues, not clubs, and NOT in SoCal.

But I checked his website at random today and noticed that he's booked for a rare LA gig. It's this coming Friday and Saturday, September 25 and 26, at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 West Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90016.

When I bought my tickets, there seemed to be plenty left. Hope to see you there. My guess is you could dress nicely for this concert with no loss of face.

Ruth Price at the Jazz Bakery is soliciting stories about favorite nights at that venue, which is working on getting a new home. Mine was about Ahmad Jamal.

Here's what I wrote for her:

I've been enjoying nights at the Jazz Bakery almost since I arrived in LA in 2000, but my favorite night was about half a dozen years ago when I arranged a field trip of KPCC employees to the Bakery.

The Great Ahmad Jamal was playing, and I wanted as many of my friends as possible to share the evening ... And with your reasonable prices, I knew it wouldn't break their banks. (You may have given us a group rate, Ruth; I don't remember.)

I think about twenty people came. We started with burgers at In 'n Out in Pasadena (which serves ketchup), then drove down to Culver City. Jamal played with his trio and it was magical, as always. But the way our engineer at the time reacted has stuck with me ever since.

Let's call him Ron. I looked over at Ron several times during the performance, and there he sat in his green lawn chair, eyes closed, blissed out. Now, Ron was a widower and a tatooed former military man. I think he enjoyed a cigarette and a beer now and then, but I never pegged him as an imbiber in the psychotropic substances. But this night, he really was tripping ... And the piano and Jamal's fingers were a time machine.

Ron says as he was listening to Jamal explode melodies and put them back together, a note or a chord would trigger a memory of a person, which he'd enjoy for a while. Then another sprinkle of notes would remind him of another old friend. And so on ... through Poinciana and Ahmad's Blues and Awakenings and One and the other great tunes.

I am familiar with sense memories myself (horse manure immediately conjured images of summers on Mackinac Island back home in Michigan), and specific sounds can trigger memories in me (a schoolbell, say, or a foghorn). But I had never heard of combinations of musical notes having that effect ... Until that night at the Jazz Bakery showed me yet another piece of magic that music could perform.

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