Ahmad Jamal led one of the most prosperous small-group jazz ensembles for six decades. Also, he was an American jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator.

Picture of American jazz pianist, Ahmad Jamal
Caption: Picture of American jazz pianist, Ahmad Jamal (Photo: arts)

When was Ahmad Jamal Born? 

On July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Ahmad Jamal was born. His birth name Frederick Russell Jones. His parents Lottie Jones, and Robert Smith Jones. At the age of three, when his uncle Lawrence encouraged him to emulate what he was doing on the piano, he began learning how to play the piano.

At the age of seven, Jamal started taking lessons from Mary Cardwell Dawson at the piano. Jamal also studied piano under James Miller, starting his career at the age of fourteen. He graduated from George Westinghouse High School in the year 1948. Ahmad had American nationality and belonged to the black ethnicity.

Change of Religion

Ahmad was born to Baptist parents. But he developed a fascination with Islam and Islamic culture. Eventually, he changed his religion to Islam. In the year 1950, he changed his name to Ahmad Jamal. A few years later, he discussed his choice to alter his name in an interview with The New York Times, saying it was motivated by a desire to "re-establish my original name." 

Picture of Ahmad Jamal performing on the stage
Caption: Picture of Ahmad Jamal performing on the stage (Photo: pyxis)

He revealed to The New York Times shortly after becoming an adherent of Islam that he "says Muslim prayers five times a day and arises in time to say his first prayers at 5 am. He says them in Arabic in keeping with the Muslim tradition."


In the year 1951, Ahmad made his first records for the Okeh label with The Three Strings. The Three Strings had a prolonged contract at the Blue Note in Chicago, but they shot to popularity after playing at the Embers in New York City, where John Hammond caught them on stage and signed them to Okeh Records. Jamal used the piano-guitar-bass combo to record for Parrot (1955–55) and Epic (1955). When drummer Vernel Fournier took Crawford's place in 1957 and the three began performing as the "house trio" at Chicago's Pershing Hotel, the sound of the group considerably changed. At the Pershing: But Not for Me, a live album published by the group, spent 108 weeks on the Ten Best-selling lists. On this CD, Jamal's version of the well-known song "Poinciana" was first made available.

Ahmad Jamal performing on the stage
Caption: Ahmad Jamal performing on the stage (Photo: musicfeeds)

At the Pershing, maybe Jamal's most well-known recording was made in 1958 at the Pershing Hotel in Chicago and helped him gain notoriety in the late 1950s and early 1960s jazz era. Jamal's music gained popularity throughout the 1950s with the release of the best-selling album But Not For Me, and he garnered media attention for his investing choices related to his "rising fortune". He visited North Africa in 1959 to look at possible African investment opportunities. Jamal was able to build The Alhambra, a restaurant and club, in Chicago after his tour of North Africa, thanks to the financial success of Live at the Pershing: But Not For Me. However, the venture only lasted for about a year.

Ahmad Jamal performing on the stage, in his early stage of career
Caption: Ahmad Jamal performing on the stage, in his early stage of career (Photo: newyorker)

After The Three Strings split up in 1962, Jamal recorded Macanudo with a large orchestra and took a little break from touring. After relocating to New York, Jamal began a residency at the Village Gate nightclub in 1964 and continued performing. In 1965, he collaborated on a new album called Extensions with bassist Jamil S. Nasser. He performed only on an acoustic piano up until 1970. He also played electric piano throughout the 1970s; one of his recordings was an instrumental rendition of "Suicide is Painless," the theme song from the 1970 movie MASH. This version replaced The Mash's original vocal performance of the song on the 1973 edition of the soundtrack album. Jamal continued to perform and record throughout his 80s, releasing albums including Saturday Morning (2013), Ahmad Jamal Featuring Yusef Lateef Live at L'Olympia (2014), Marseille (2017), and Ballades (2019), which primarily featured solo piano.

Ahmad Jamal Net Worth

Ahmad Jamal's net worth estimated to be around $1.7 Million at the time of his death. During his lifetime, he lived a comfortable life. Also, he earned money working as a pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator.

Ahmad Jamal Wife 

Ahmad Jamal had been married twice in his lifetime. In the early 1960s, he got married to his first wife Sharifah Frazier as a teenager. The duo didn't share any kids out of their married life. Sadly, Jamal and Frazier's married life ended in the year 1982. In the same year, Ahmad got married to his 2nd wife Laura Hess-Hay. Likewise, their marriage was also short-lived as, Ahmad and Laura divorced in 1984, only two years into it. 

Ahmad Jamal with his ex-wife Laura Hess-Hay
Caption: Ahmad Jamal with his ex-wife Laura Hess-Hay (Photo: Pinterest) 

Hess-Hay remained her ex-husband's manager even after they divorced, so they did not mix business and pleasure. The duo maintained a good relationship, both professionally and personally despite their divorce. Laura would tell of her love and adoration for Jamal. Jamal's first marriage had ended badly, and at one point he was even arrested for failing to make support payments for his adopted daughter Mumeenah Aliyyah.

Ahmad Jamal Death

Ahmad Jamal died from complications of prostate cancer at home in Ashley Falls, Massachusetts. On April 16, 2023, he passed away at the age of 92. His daughter, Sumayah Jamal confirmed her father Ahmad's death.