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Ahmed Abdul-Malik

October 25, 2010


Son of a Sudanese father and American mother, Ahmed Abdul-Malik (born Sam Gill.  1/30/1927 – 10/2/1993) was one of the first modern jazzman to explore a genuine African heritage in music, rather than just layering exotic titles over what he was going to do anyway.  As a child Ahmed studied violin, playing in various wedding bands performing for the Greek, Syrian and even Gypsy communities in his hometown, Brooklyn.  At the High School of Music and Performing Arts his primary training was on the bass.  He also played piano, cello and tuba.

It was his bass work that launched his successful jazz career, beginning with Art Blakey and Don Byas in 48, Randy Weston from 54 – 57, and Thelonius Monk for a few years after that.  He also played with Fess Williams, Sam (the Man) Taylor, Coleman Hawkins as well as the Middle Eastern groups of Mohamed el Bakkar and Djamal Aslan.

In the 50’s a growing interest in Islam and Arabic music lead to a name change and a serious investigation into North African and middle Eastern forms.  His explorations appearing on his premier LP, Jazz Sahara, – a recording without time signatures, chords, or any proscribed numbers of bars or measures.  More formal study followed in ‘65 as he went for his doctorate at the New York College of Music.  In 1960 he toured South America under the auspices of the State Department and in ‘61 visited Africa.

The oud was now his primary instrument and he guested on many LPs, including; John Coltrane and Herbie Mann in ‘61, Odetta’s Odetta and the Blues (Riverside, ‘62), Earl Hines, 64, Ken McIntyre, ‘71.  In ‘72 he played the African Jazz Festival in Tangier and oud on Hamiet Bluiett LP, Orchestra, Duo and Septet, 1977.  In the 70s Ahmed taught at New York University, and in the 80s at the Dept. of African Studies at Brooklyn College.  Since the 60s Ahmed was active in hosting workshops in public schools and colleges.  In 1985 he received the BMI Pioneer in Jazz Award.

Discography :

• East Meets West , (RCA, USA, LSP-2015, 12” vinyl disc-Lp, 1960).  Short improvisations float above the solid Arabic modal structure to produce one of the best early attempts at synthesis without shortchanging either culture.  Benny Golson and Johnny Griffin (sax), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Lee Morgan (Trumpet), Al Harewood (drums), Naim Karacand (violin), Ahmed Yetman (kanoon), Mike Hamway and Bilal Abdurrahman (darabeka), with one vocal by Jarkarawan Nasseur.

• Eastern Moods, (Prestige, USA, NJLP 8298, 12” vinyl disc-Lp, 1963. (Not Released, but have seen some pre-release copies listed for sale, Prestige PR 16003, RARE, yellow & black “microgroove” label, 1963)

Jazz Sahara (Riverside, USA, RLP 1121, 12” vinyl disc-Lp, 1958).  Ahmed on bass and oud, with sax player Johnny Griffin who had worked with him in Monk’s quartet.  Al Harewood (drums), Jack Ghanaim (kanoon), Naim Karacand (violin), Mike Hamway (darabeka) and Bilal Abdurrahman (duf).  We also have a Rivereside LP with the # 12-287 , and the LP has been reissued on CD, Riverside, OJCCD-1820-2, 1993.

• Jazz Sound of Africa    (Prestige, USA, 24279, 5”, CD, 2003).  CD reissuing the albums The Music Of Ahmed Abdul-Malik and Sounds of Africa.

• Sounds of Africa, (New Jazz, USA, NJLP 8282, 12” vinyl disc-Lp, 1962 )

• Spellbound, (Status, USA, ST 8303, 12”, vinyl disc-Lp, 1964).

• The Music of Ahmed Abdul-Malik, (New Jazz, USA, NJ 8266, 12” LP, 1961).

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