Yet, even though he has had such celebrated career as one of the great jazz innovators, Jamal still takes issue with the label "jazz." [2:09]
Ahmad Jamal: This word we call “jazz,” leaves something in me wanting. The only two art forms that developed in the United States, in my opinion: American Indian art, and this thing we call jazz. I’m not paranoid about the word, but they never intended for this to be a sophisticated, to say the least, art form, and one that’s instrumental in putting up buildings like the one we’re in: the JALC Building. This is what happens in the jazz community, so it’s up to us to redefine what we want to call it. I coined that phrase some years ago -- “American Classical Music” -- because that’s just what it is. Duke didn’t call himself a jazz musician. George Shearing is multidimensional, like all of us are. He could play a Mozart concerto, and he could write "Lullaby of Birdland." You’re not going to find that in the European classical community, this multidimensional ability. One-dimensional most of the time -- 90 percent of the time -- when you talk about European classicists. In order for us to be successful, Jo, we have to know the best of both worlds. I was playing Franz Liszt when I was ten years old, in competition, and I can’t play it now because I have to stick to what pays the bill, and the American classical music is what I prefer. And I still am able to run through my basic repertoire when it comes to the European classical music, but I also can run through the repertoire of American classical music as well. So when people come to me, say, “Oh, I play classical music,” get away from me. I don’t want to hear that. I play classical music, too. Duke played classical music. Ben Webster, who gave me a pair of cufflinks when I was a kid, he played classical music, and Paul Gonsalves -- all of us are classicists. But it’s up to us to redefine what we want to call our art form. I’m the one that took a straightforward, pioneering approach, and called it “American classical music,” I just talked to a man who calls his program -- Al Carter-Bey in Chicago -- he calls it “American classical music in a jazz idiom.” So I don’t care who gets credit for it; it’s being echoed all over the world now. That’s what it is.