Music: Syncopated Silence

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"I'd love to have a little boy," says Trumpeter Miles Davis, "with red hair, green eyes and a black face—who plays piano like Ahmad Jamal." Trumpeter Davis is one of the more fervent admirers of the pianist whose group is currently the hottest trio in jazz. Its leader is neither red-haired nor green-eyed—but the spell he casts on his faithful followers, including many a fellow jazzman, sometimes suggests the arrival of the first Martian from outer space.

Ahmad's five Argo albums have sold well, and one of his most recent, Jamal at the Pershing, was for months the top jazz LP in the country. For club engagements Ahmad now gets a top fee of $3,000 per week. Appearing last week at Indiana's French Lick Jazz Festival, he was at the top of his inventive form. A master of the dramatic effects of silence, he sometimes sits for as much as 16 bars without touching a key ("A pattern," he points out, "can be completed in space"). He rarely repeats himself in a chorus, may go in one brief number—Autumn in New York or The Girl Next Door—through a kaleidoscopic range of moods, most of them merely suggested. by a rhythmic break, a lightly lyric flight in the right hand, a sudden shifting of dynamic gears. Ahmad can build his musical ideas with such subtlety that the listener often has the sensation of not knowing where he is being led until the final note is played.

Pianist Jamal was born plain Fritz Jones 29 years ago in Pittsburgh. He changed his name legally in 1950, after he became a Moslem. Says he mystically: "When my people were brought over here from Asia and Africa, they were given various names, such as Jones and Smith. I haven't adopted a name. It's a part of my ancestral background and heritage: I have re-established my original name. I have gone back to my own vine and fig tree."

Jamal studied piano privately, was sitting in with touring jazz groups as a sideman by the time he was eleven, had his own trio when he was 21. He has since composed (Seleritus, Ahmad's Blues) as well as performed. He did not develop his distinctively understated style until after his conversion, which, he feels, gave him the necessary "inner peace of mind" to play as he does.