JACOB H. CARRUTHERS FOR INNER CITY STUDIES
Aaron Jamal has a storied musical career. Born in Chicago, Jamal was blessed to have music around him for all of his life. The nephew of blues legend Abbey Lincoln, Jamal was afforded a front row seat to his aunt and uncle Max Roach performing songs that awed him even as a child. Not able to afford extensive formal training, Jamal began to play the piano by ear. The skill intrigued family members enough that he was encouraged to de- velop the skill and began taking lessons.
Armed with only the basics of reading chord charts, Jamal began playing with local groups in high school and immediately after graduation left to tour with blues great Tyrone Davis. With his appetite wet to be a professional keyboardist, Jamal played as a studio musician and worked the clubs.
Jamal began looking for his niche. He discovered an incredible amount of talented musicians all over the country and settled on the need to find something that set him apart. He purchased a Moog synthesizer that gave him the ability to stretch his creativity.
He headed a local group Return of the Khalif that featured a jazz fusion style of original and cover songs. The group was full of energetic and talented artists: Herb Walker, James Allen, Cordell Carter, Michael Williams, and lifetime friend Tony Carpenter. "Khalif" caught the eye of many other groups and musicians. On any given night you could see members from Earth Wind & Fire, Weather Report, McCoy Tyner and even the great Al Jareau in the audience. Khalif helped to build a reputation for Jamal as a fiery soloist and he was invited to play on a Phil Upchurch project. Phil was a local musical giant that Jamal had followed for years. He befriended Jamal and gave him his first opportunity to play with some true greats: Richard Tee. Steve Gadd, Willie Lee were among the list of great artists on this album.
Humbled by the awesome talent on this project, Jamal began to play, record with and tour with more groups ranging from the Chicago based Leroy Hutson, Donny Hathaway, The Emotions who toured along side of George Benson, B.B King, and finally the Commodores during Lionel Richie's last tour with the group. Jamal began to work with other local groups.
Heading a group called Master Peace he began recording more with the likes of local artist such as Gavin Christopher who embraced Jamal's funk-fusion style of synth and piano. On the debut project of Master Peace, he met Margaret Perry with the group. However, this was the beginning of a turn in his career. Jamal and Margaret married soon and began to build a family.
During a time of collaborating with the legendary Jerry Butler, The Jamals were encouraged to release a single. Trying to get deeper into the business end of music, Jamal started his own label Taj Jamal Records. They released Side by Side, a soulful jazzy ballad that caught the ear of the two top R&B sta- tions in Chicago; V-103 and WGCI. With tour plans interrupted by the birth of their youngest son, Elijah, Jamal started playing with Amuzement Park Band. APB caught the ear of Ahmet Ertegun and was personally signed to Atlantic Records Label.
The R&B self contained vocals, composition, and musicianship promised to be a hit. With guest artists/producer David 'Hawk' Wolinski and members of Toto playing (David Paich, Steve Porcaro, Jeff Porcaro and James Newton Howard}, Atlantic Records released a soulful ballad, 'NO', that gained a quick rotation on local stations and positioned the group to play in concert with legendary Tina Turner. The group continued touring and played national venues with groups such as Maze, The Manhattans, The Pointed Sisters, Sheila E and so many more. However, this was short lived as well and Jamal took a 7 year Spiritual Sabbatical to Colorado.
Jamal was already in pursuit of a balance between his spiritual beliefs and his music. He found himself in pursuit of a calling Amuzement Park Band that led him to be ordained and then eventually Pastor of the Spirit Led Ministries Church in Aurora, Colorado. Still driven to use his gift of music, Jamal developed a number of projects; One Voice was a choir of Prasie Center Church singing mostly cover songs and featuring the voices of wife Margaret (also ordained), Aaron and daughters Gina and Asia among others.
Eventually, Rev. Jamal reached out with the music ministry of Shout and performed in churches all over the Colorado area. Shout featured the voices of each of the Jamal family, Gina, Asia, Joshua and Elijah as well as Margaret and Pastor Jamal. However, Jamal was called back to Chicago, where he began to change his focus to social services and ministry.
The Jamals were able to use their gift of song and their passion to help people addressing social issues in a way that music along could not do. Inspired by the Late Rev. Hazel Fort, The Jamals have headed a number of projects combining their skills of music, videography, photo-journalism, and advocacy in order to help grass root non-profits establish fundamental skills to qualify for grants. Still trying to pursue opportunities to play and sing, Jamal makes himself available as a welcomed addition to other local artists, however, the economic crunch has diminished the clubs and events he has played at significantly.
Today, you may find Jamal's skills being showcased on YouTube as he scores music behind video projects or you may be fortunate enough to see him playing along side of some of his friends in the Chicago area playing a wide range of music.
Jamal is still playing and even composing. His latest focus has turned toward his youngest son Elijah, who majored in music and is following in the steps of his parents. Singer, composer, producer and keyboardist, Aaron Jamal has a legacy manifesting through his son and there are rumors of daughter Asia J. Walker begin- ning to record on the east coast.
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