Jimmy Amadie, the renowned Philadelphia jazz pianist and music educator who recorded nine albums despite suffering from severe tendonitis that prevented him from performing live for 44 years, has died. He was 76.
Mr. Amadie, who grew up in the Tioga section of North Philadelphia and lived in Bala Cynwyd, was diagnosed with lung cancer (though he never smoked) in 2007. He died on Tuesday at Penn Hospice in Center City.
"Philadelphia has been the home base for some extremely significant jazz artists," said guitarist Pat Martino. "Not only has Jimmy Amadie been a significant addition to jazz history, but even more so he mastered being a very special person, and we'll miss him deeply."
A former boxer and all-conference quarterback and second baseman at Northeast Catholic High School, Mr. Amadie was known for his competitive spirit. He fell in love with jazz after his father, a guitarist and soccer player, took him to see Art Tatum at the Academy of Music when he was 16. "I thought there must be four or five other piano players behind the screen," he told the Inquirer in 2011. "Just unbelievable."
In the 1960s, Mr. Amadie played in Mel Torme's road band, and the confidently swinging soloist backed up Coleman Hawkins and Red Rodney, as well as holding down house band duties at the Red Hill Inn in Pennsauken. He had previously broken both of his hands boxing, though, and the strain of playing more than 70 hours a week was too much, and he had to quit in 1967.
In the early 1970s he had the first two (of seven) operations, but he could play for only a few minutes at a time, so he remade himself as an educator. He taught at Villanova University and the Berklee College of Music and wrote two highly regarded text books, Harmonic Foundation for Jazz and Popular Music and Jazz Improv: How To Play It and Teach It.
Jazz guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel called Amadie "a true inspiration both musically and spiritually. I had one year of piano lessons with him when I was 17, and he gave me my foundation of harmonic understanding of jazz."
Devorah Lissek, another student, called Amadie "a master teacher. His lessons were something between a workout in the ring and a loving apprenticeship in the craft of jazz."
Despite his ailments, Amadie was determined to make his mark. "I had never made an album, I couldn't prove anything," he said in 2011. "If I had died before I was 60, nobody would've known I could play." With each song taking 16 weeks to complete, he released his first album, Always With Me, in 1996.
Seven more followed. Danny Miller, a student of Amadie's who is executive producer of the WHYY radio show Fresh Air, said his friend's "persistence and obsession . . . were the qualities that that allowed him to claw himself back into playing at a level few other players attain. His playing was eloquent, rich and distinctive. You knew it was Jimmy."
After being diagnosed with cancer, Amadie was determined to perform live again. After releasing his final studio album in 2011, Something Special, he took the stage for the first time since 1967.
Before that performance with bassist Tony Marino and drummer Bill Goodwin, which was released this year as The Jimmy Amadie Trio: Live at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Amadie said, "I'm really sore. I;m hurt. But what do you want me to do? I can't stop playing. I can't even fathom not trying to play. This is the best time of my life. I'm playing better than ever. So if the Devil wants to see me that night, I'll see him. That's all I can do."
Amadie is survived by his wife, Lucille, sister Arlene, and brother Ralph. A memorial will be held on Saturday, Dec. 21, at the Church of St. John, 404 Levering Mill Road, Bala Cynwyd. Donations can be sent to the Jimmy Amadie Academy for Jazz, Villanova University, 800 E. Lancaster Lane, Villanova 19085.