Khan Jamal, jazz vibraphonist known for his avant-garde spiritual music, dies at 75

Khan Jamal, 75, a Philadelphia jazz vibraphonist, composer and marimba player known for his witty, experimental and avant-garde music, died Monday, January 10 of kidney failure at Chestnut Hill Hospital.

Mr. Jamal, who played with Sun Ra Arkestra and helped found the Sounds of Liberation collective, “was one of the greatest minds this country has produced,” said the Philadelphia tenor saxophonist. Pope of Odean. “He was also a very good friend of mine.”

Pope, 83, played in Mr. Jamal’s Change of the Century orchestra, which included drummer Philly Joe Jones, saxophonist Archie Shepp and two members of one of Mr. Jamal’s previous bands: guitarist Monnette Sudler and saxophonist Byard Lancaster.

“There will probably never be another ambient player who has his sound,” Pope said. “He had an original touch. His music is going to be relevant for a long time.

Mainly inspired by the vibraphonist, pianist and conductor Lionel HamptonMr. Jamal played early in his career with the Sun Ra Arkestrawhose music is considered a pioneer in what later became known as Afrofuturism. He has also performed with Cosmic Forces and Sunny Murray.

In 1971, Sudler, Mr. Jamal, and percussionist Omar Hill were founding members of the Sounds of Liberation collective, which featured young musicians responding to the country’s political mood.

“He liked to create experimental and avant-garde music. But at the same time,” Sudler said, “the melodies Khan created were also very beautiful and spiritual.”

Sudler was just 19 and Mr. Jamal was around 25 when the band started and they often played at community black liberation festivals, Mills told the Inquirer in 2019. His debut album, new horizonalso known as Release sounds, was released in 1972 and re-released in 2010.

Dwight James, one of the members of Sound of Liberation, said he and Mr. Jamal grew up in a time when professional musicians lived throughout North Philadelphia.

“You always heard music coming out of somebody’s house, James said. “In my block, I mostly heard jazz.”

In a 2009 interview, Mr. Jamal spoke to filmmaker and musician Jason Fifield about life near John Coltrane’s home at 1511 N. 33rd St., where musicians continued to play music long after the saxophonist left Philadelphia for New York in 1958.

They were invited by Coltrane’s “Cousin Mary” Alexander to practice or jam sessions in the backyard.

“A lot of musicians used to come there,” Mr. Jamal said. in the movie. “I used to sit on the steps and listen to them all the time. From then on, music was in my blood. I was born a musician.

Lovett Hines, artistic director of the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, said Mr. Jamal

was invited by Alexander to be part of the John W. Coltrane Cultural Society, where musicians gave masterclasses and came out as jazz ambassadors in the community.

Born on July 23, 1946 as Warren Robert Cheeseboro in Jacksonville, Florida, Mr. Jamal’s father, Henry McCloud, was an entrepreneur and his mother, Willa Mae Cheeseboro, was a pianist. He was the eldest of four children.

He left Florida as a child and grew up in Philadelphia, said his brother, Johnnie P. McGee III.

After his parents separated, he lived with his grandmother in a house on 28th Street, across from where his mother lived with her new husband and three young children, McGee said.

After graduating from Edison High School in 1965, Mr. Jamal served in the United States Army in Vietnam. Back in Philadelphia, he studied music at the Granoff School of Music, Combs College of Music, and privately with educator Bill Lewis.

In 1970, Mr. Jamal and Janice Browning, his high school sweetheart, had their first son. They married in 1976 and had a second son. The marriage ended in divorce and his ex-wife died in 2014.

As late as 2019, low beat The magazine ranked Mr. Jamal among the best vibraphonists in the world.

“It was more appreciated in Europe than in the United States.” said his son Khan Jamal II. “Because Europe was big on jazz. They loved him in Copenhagen and London.

Besides his son and brother, Mr. Jamal is survived by a second son, Tahir Jamal, three grandchildren and many relatives and friends.

A memorial service is planned by the Clef Club at a later date, his son said.

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