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Jazz pianist, composer, Chicago club favorite Ghalib Ghallab has died at 67

Jazzman Ghalib Ghallab at his custom-made white piano.

Jazzman Ghalib Ghallab at his custom-made white piano. | Provided photo

Jazz pianist and composer Ghalib Ghallab, a favorite at Chicago clubs and in Las Vegas, died Tuesday.

Mr. Ghallab, 67, had cancer and had been ill for more than a year, according to his wife of 38 years, Toya.

“His aim was to make everyone happy, and he put that in his music,” she said Thursday from their Nevada home, where his white grand piano, custom-made in China and stamped with his signature, sits in their living room. “He was a gentleman and lover of music.”

At Caesar’s Palace and other Vegas hot spots, James Brown, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra would come out to listen to Mr. Ghallab, and Natalie Cole and Lou Rawls sat in with him.

HIs sinuous music was influenced by Latin jazz and by performing with jazz giants like fellow pianist Ahmad Jamal.

“He would always talk about Ahmad Jamal,” his wife said. “He was a driving force in the way he played.”

In Chicago, the Harlan High School graduate appeared at clubs including the Back Room on Rush, the Cotton Club, George’s, Jazz Bulls, M Lounge and the Promontory, where he played in April. He also made several albums.

He got his love of music from his family. When he was 2, his grandfather would sit him down at the family piano.

“I used to bang on the piano all the time,’’ Mr. Ghallab said in an interview on his website.

Ghalib Ghallab performing in May 2014 at the M Lounge in the South Loop at a release party celebrating his recording "I'm Evolving."

Ghalib Ghallab performing in May 2014 at the M Lounge in the South Loop at a release party celebrating his recording “I’m Evolving.” | Maudlyne Ihejirika / Sun-Times

His parents Juanita and Kay also influenced him.

“My mom played jazz in the house, you just, you name it — from Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson,” he said. “My dad was a Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis type of guy, Lou Rawls. You name it, singers — we had ’em. Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole. And it was like food for my ears, you know, for my growth, and I find myself taking licks from those songs from back in the day, and I apply them to what I do.”

At 13 or 14, he’d hang out in Old Town to listen to jazz trumpeter Ira Sullivan and bassist Johnny Pate.

In high school, he played tuba in the band at Harlan, according to his biography on The History Makers’ website.

He studied with legendary pianist Willie Pickens at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. Mr. Ghallab later moved to San Francisco, where, his Facebook page said, he continued his music studies at Napa Valley College.

He is also survived by his children Ghalib II, Jihad and Khalid and three grandchildren. Graveside services are planned Friday at Woodlawn Cemetery in Las Vegas. His wife said a Chicago celebration of his life might also be held at some point.