Book cover: Rebelmusic

Jazz and Islam: A Retrospective Series (P. 6 – Final)

The Musicians 

Text by Dawoud Kringle

This continued series explores the relation between jazz and Islam. In this installment, I am continuing the presentation of the biographies of Muslim jazz artists.

Idris Muhammad was born Leo Morris in New Orleans (1939-2014). He began playing the drums at age 8. Before he reached the age of 21, he’d recorded with Sam Cooke and Jerry Butler, and was a respected session drummer for record labels such as Imperial, Specialty, and Ace. In the 1960s his music experienced a profound change due to the influence of John Coltrane. This led to a synthesis of R&B and jazz. He worked with Lou Donaldson 1965-67. In 1969-73 He worked as drummer for the Broadway musical “Hair” and 1970-72, he was the house drummer for Prestige Records. His releases as a leader include “Black Rhythm Revolution”, “Peace and Rhythm”, “Kabsha”, “My Turn”, and “Right Now”. Muhammad has performed or recorded with Larry Williams, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfeild, Sonny Stitt, Charles Earland, Gene Ammons, Pharoah Saunders, Roberta Flack, John Hicks, Randy Weston, Jamil Nassr, John Scofield, Roberta Flack, Johnny Griffin, George Coleman, Randy Brecker, his wife, vocalist Sakinah Muhammad, and countless others.

Melvin Sparks-Hassan (1946-2011) began his career at the age of 12 playing with B.B. King. He toured and performed with Sam Cooke, Wilson Picket, Marvin Gaye, Solomon Burke, The Supremes, Steve Wonder, and others. He had also recorded with Grover Washington Jr., Lou Donaldson, Hank Crawford, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, and the Muslim Vanguard. Like Idris Muhammad, he became adept at the synthesis of R&B and jazz, as well as being a master jazz and blues guitarist.

Drummer, songwriter, and producer Jesse “Cheese” Hameen II was born in 1941 in New Haven, CT. With early exposure to gospel, Afro-Cuban music, R&B, and jazz, Hameen began his professional career in 1963. The list of people he has performed and recorded with since then is too long be included here in its entirety. A sample list would include Grover Washington, Jr., Lena Horn, Stanley Turrentine, Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions, Charles Earland, Jimmy Witherspoon, Hank Crawford, Lou Donaldson, Etta Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Leon Thomas, Pharoah Saunders, Kenny Burell, Brook Benton, Melvin Sparks-Hassan, Doug & Jean Carn, Lonnie Smith, Kenny Baron, David “Fathead” Newman, Benny Powell, Jimmy McGriff, George Benson, Jimmy Witherspoon, James “Blood” Ulmer, Freddie Hubbard, Tito Puente, Kenny Barron, Larry Young, Rene McLean, Mulgrew Miller, Lonnie Plaxico, Bob Cunningham, Hakim Jami, and Juini Booth. In 1976, he founded Inspire Productions. Hameen is also an adjunct professor at the Hartford Conservatory of Music, and is a member of the faculty at the Neighborhood Music School.

Bassist Juini Booth (born February 12, 1948) began playing piano at age eight, and switched to bass at 12. He worked with Chuck Mangione in his hometown of Buffalo, NY in 1964-65 before moving to New York City around 1966. He later played with Eddie Harris, Art Blakey , Sonny Simmons, Marzette Watts, Freddie Hubbard, Gary Bartz, Tony William’s Lifetime, McCoy Tyner, Larry Young, Hamiet Bluiett, Chico Freeman, Elvin Jones, Joe Chambers, Sun Ra, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He earned a reputation as a master of both electric and upright bass.

Rashied Ali (a.k.a. Robert Patterson) was born in Philadelphia in 1933. He studied at the Granoff School and played with various R&B and jazz groups. In 1963, he toured Japan with Sonny Rollins and moved to New York where he played with Pharoah Sanders, Paul Bley, Albert Ayler, Sunny Murry, Sun Ra, and others. His work with John Coltrane began in 1965; with whom he recorded and performed, including a tour of Japan. After Coltrane’s death in 1967 he worked with his widow Alice Coltrane and as a leader. In 1972 he helped organize the New York Musicians Festival and in 1973 formed Survival Records. This was part of his efforts to help musicians gain control of their careers and remain self-sufficient. He opened a “loft” club and recording studio called “Ali’s Alley” in 1973, and later played with Milford Graves and Andrew Cyrille in the “Dialogue of the Drums” concert series. His style of drumming freed the drums from the strict role of timekeeper, and places the drums in the role of melodic improviser. His stint with John Coltrane and his ability to play polyrhythms and “multidirectional” rhythmic patterns earned him great respect. During his career he also worked with Alice Coltrane, Bill Dixon, Archie Shepp, Big Maybelle, Earl Hines, Bud Powell, Marion Brown, Sun Ra, Leroy Jenkins, and others.

(Much of the material in this series is from my as yet unpublished book A Garden of Air and Light: The Relationship Between Music and Islamic Spirituality and Culture (c). 2004. Used by DBDBD NY & MFM by permission of the author).

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