The great drummer Art Blakey led The Jazz Messengers from around the mid-fifties up until his death in 1990. The concept for the group originated with a big band called The Seventeen Messengers that was formed in 1947. It is often described as a “rehearsal band.” probably because it never recorded and apparently didn’t play very many live dates. Most of the members of this band were Muslims, including Blakey (Abdulla Ibn Buhaina), who had converted around this time.
During this period of discrimination against African Americans, musicians may have been looking for some relief. According to Dizzy Gillespie’s biography, To Be Or Not To Bop, many musicians converted because, as a Muslim, they would no longer be considered black by certain authorities. This may be true, but it seems most musicians who converted to Islam took their new faith very seriously.
The musicians who are said to have played with The Seventeen Messengers include such (non-Muslim) legends as Sonny Rollins, Cecil Payne and Bud Powell with some arrangements supplied by Thelonious Monk. Without financial backing, the big band could not survive and it only seemed to exist sporadically. By 1950-probably before-it was dissolved.
On December 27, 1947*, eight members of The Seventeen Messengers recorded four titles at WOR Studios in New York City. These four titles were credited to Art Blakey’s Messengers and released on two 78s by Blue Note Records. The Muslim musicians were Sahib Shihab (alto saxophone), Orlando Wright (Musa Kaleem, tenor saxophone), Kenny Dorham (Abdul Hamid, trumpet), Howard Bowe (Haleen Rasheed, trombone), Walter Bishop (Ibrahim Ibn Ismail, piano) and Blakey. There is no evidence that the other two, Ernie Thompson (baritone saxophone) and Laverne Barker (bass) followed Islam. As one may suspect with musicians of this caliber and during this period, the recording session resulted in four titles of very high quality bebop.
In 1952, Blakey made his next significant (to our story) recording, a trio date with pianist Horace Silver. At the time, Blakey was mostly recording on dates for other bandleaders, but occasionally led a band in the New York nightclubs. Silver wrote some material for Blakey’s group and eventually they joined forces. By 1953, they were working as Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers and in November of 1954, actually recorded under that name.
Until about 1957, Blakey and Silver recorded on each other’s records. Often they recorded together on recordings by other artists. However, it was Silver who used the “Jazz Messengers” name up through 1955.
On November 23, 1955, the group was recorded live at the Cafe Bohemia in New York City and released as by The Jazz Messengers on Blue Note Records. Sessions recorded the next year by basically the same group resulted in two albums issued as by The Jazz Messengers on Columbia Records-though Kenny Drew filled in for Silver on a few tracks.
The Jazz Messengers backed Dutch jazz singer Rita Reys on a couple sessions, also in 1956, with Drew taking the piano seat at the second session.
By January 1957, Silver was pursuing a career away from The Jazz Messengers and Sam Dockery was in his place. From this moment, Blakey was the nominal head of the group. Two LPs were issued as by The Jazz Messengers featuring Art Blakey on Pacific Jazz, after which just about every Blakey album was issued as by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers or Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Blakey would use the Jazz Messengers moniker for most of the recordings released under his name until he died in 1990.
Over the decades, The Jazz Messengers was an incubator for hot jazz players. Such fine musicians as Hank Mobly, Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, Bobby Timmons, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Stanley Clarke, Woody Shaw, Bobby Watson, Wynton & Branford Marsallis, Terrance Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Javon Jackson and Wallace Roney all came to prominence as a member of Blakey’s group.
Although The Jazz Messengers never again emphasized its Muslim roots, it always had one as it’s leader-Art Blakey/Abdulla Ibn Buhaina.
Art Blakey and James Moody-New Sounds (CD; Blue Note, 1991)
Art Blakey -The Jazz Messengers (CD;Legacy/Columbia, 1997)
Richard Cook -Blue Note Records: The Biography (Justin, Charles & Co, 2003)
Tom Lord -The Jazz Discography (various volumes) (Cadence Jazz Books, 1997)
Neal Umphred -Price Guide to Collectable Jazz Albums 1949-1969 (Kraus Publications, 1994)
To Be Or Not To Bop
*The date is often given as December 22, 1947. December 27, 1947 is the date shown on the reissue of the titles on Blue Note Records.
Fred Patterson, ARChive of Contemporary Music
All members of the Jazz Messengers relevant to Muslim World Music Day are listed in our discography. Below is as complete a list as we could compile of other American Jazz musicians who have embraced Islam.
Top name in bold is artist’s professional name. b:is given name. m: denotes a name change for religious or cultural reasons. Then instruments played. Musical associates (assoc:) indicates appearances on recordings by other artists or musicians known to have worked with in some capacity. Notes, if any, last. You should be able to find releases by these artists in the ARC database on this site.
Kamal Abdul-Alim – Trumpet. assoc:Frank Wright, Archie Shepp, Bobby Watson, James Spalding, Idris Muhammed
Ahmed Abdul-Malik – Bass, oud. assoc:Thelonious Monk, Johnny Griffin. Sudanese descent. Born in Brooklyn, NY.
Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim, Juan Almabert – b:Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim. Percussion. assoc:Duke Ellington, Eric Dolphy, Shirley Scott, Latin Jazz Quintet. According to Schillinger Society, Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim was his given name, but worked professionally as Juan Amalbert for many years, especially when he led the Latin Jazz Quintet. It notes that he was also credited as Aziz Latif.
Ahmed Abdulla – b:Leroy Bland. Trumpet, piano. assoc:Chico Freeman, Marion Brown, Sun Ra, Arthur Blythe, Sam Rivers
Muhal Richard Abrams – Piano. assoc:Dexter Gordon, Max Roach. Also composes classical music.
Sabu Adeyola – Bass. assoc:Ahmad Jamal, Gary Burton. Played with Ahmad Jamal during 80s.
Pheeroan AkLaff – b:Paul Mattox. Drums. assoc:Oliver Lake, Henry Threadgill, George Adams, Sonny Sharrock, Cecil Taylor.
Ahmad Alaadeen – Flute. assoc:Alaadeen and the Deans of Swing, Bobby Watson, Kansas City.
Luqman Ali – b:Edward Skinner. Drums. assoc:Sun Ra. Played in Sun Ra Arkestra for many years.
Muhammad Ali – b:Raymond Patterson. Drums. assoc:Albert Ayler, Noah Howard, Archie Shepp, Frank Wright, Saheb Sarbib. Brother of Rashied Ali
Rashied Ali – b:Robert Patterson. Drums. assoc:John Coltrane, Peter Br�tzmann, Marion Brown, Charles Gayle, David Murray, Alice Coltrane
Rashid Bakr – Drums. assoc:Jameel Moondoc, Billy Bang, David S. Ware, David Murray, Cecil Taylor. His uncle is the drummer Jo Jones.
Faruq Z Bey – b:Jesse Davis. m:Faruq Zinji Bey. Saxophone, flute. assoc:Griot Galaxy. Also composer and poet.
Walter Bishop, Jr – m:Ibrahim Ibn Ismail. Piano. assoc:Art Blakey, Curtis Fuller, Jimmy Garrison, Clark Terry, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, MIles Davis.
Art Blakey – b:Arthur Blakey. m:Abdulla Ibn Buhaina. Drums. assoc:Horace Silver, Hank Mobly, Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, Bobby Timmons, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Stanley Clarke, Woody Shaw, Bobby Watson, Wynton & Branford Marsallis, Terrance Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Javon Jackson, Wallace Roney
Howard Bowe – m:Haleen Rasheed. Trombone. assoc:Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham
Jaki Byard – b:John Byard. m:Jamil Bashir. Piano, trumpet, saxophone. assoc:Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, Roland Kirk
Kenny Clarke – b:Kenneth Spearman Clarke. m:Liaquat Ali Salaam. Drums. assoc:Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Gigi Gryce, Frank Wess, Hank Jones, J.J. Johnson, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Francy Boland, Thelonious Monk
John Coltrane – Saxophone. Unclear if he was a convert, rather than a serious student of Islam and many of the world_s religions.
Larry Cummings, Luqman Hamza – b:Larry Cummings. m:Luqman Hamza. Piano, Vocals
Ted Curson – b:Theodore Curson. Trumpet. assoc:Mal Waldron, Cecil Taylor, Red Garland, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Archie Shepp, Eric Dolphy
Olu Dara – b:Charles Jones III. Trumpet, vocal. assoc:Roy Brooks, David Murray, Julius Hemphil, James Blood Ulmer, Henry Threadgill, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Cassandra Wilson. Father of the rapper Nas (Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones).
Dawud, Dawood, Talib Ahmed, Al Barrymore – b:Alfonso Nelson Rainey. m:Talib Ahmed Dawud (Dawood). Trumpet. Assco:Dizzy Gillespie. Name is also sometimes spelled _Daawud._ Born in West Indies, but his career was US based. Married to Dakota Staton in 1958. Used professional name of Al Barrymore before his conversion.
Ben Dixon – m:Qaddir Almubeen Muhammad. Drums. assoc:Grant Green, Lou Donaldson, Big John Patton, Lloyd Price, Don Wilkerson, Jack McDuff. Played on many sessions for Blue Note records during the sixties.
Kenny Dorham – b:McKinley Howard Dorham. m:Abdul Hamid. Trumpet. assoc:Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Hank Mobly, Max Roach, A.K. Salim, Abbey Lincoln, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, Joe Hendereson
Hamid Drake – b:Henry Drake. m:Hamid. Drums, African percussion.assoc:Peter Brtotzmann, Bill Laswell, William Parker, Mandingo Griot Society, Fred Anderson, Jameel Moondoc
Kahil El_Zabar – b: Clifton Blackburn. m:Kahil El_Zabar. Percussion. assoc:Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, David Murray, Archie Shepp
Vernel Fournier – b:Vernel Anthony Fournier. m:Amir Rushdan. Drums assoc:Ahmad Jamal, Billy Eckstine, Frank Strozier. Played in Ahmad Jamal_s trio in fifties and sixties.
Grant Green – b:Grant Douglas Green. Guitar. assoc:Lou Donaldson, Jack McDuff, Larry Young, Sonny Clark, McCoy Tyner, Hank Mobly
Charles Greenlee – m:Harneefan Magid. Trombone. assoc:Dizzy Gillespie, Lucky Thompson, Yusef Lateef, Maynard Ferguson, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Sam Rivers, JJ Johnson, Roland Kirk, Slide Hampton.
Gigi Gryce – b:George General Grice, Jr. m:Basheer Qusim. Saxophone assoc:Donald Byrd, Clifford Brown
Shafi Hadi, Curtis Porter – b:Curtis Porter. m:Shafi Hadi. Saxophone. assoc:Charles Mingus, Hank Mobley. Recorded under both names, but mostly as Shafi Hadi
Omar Hakim – Drums. assoc:Roy Ayers, David Sanborn, Weather Report, Stanley Jordan, Miles Davis, John Schofield. Also recorded with pop and R&B acts.
Sadik Hakim, Argonne Thornton – b:Argonne Thornton m:Sadik Hakim. Piano. assoc:Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk, James Moody, Lester Young. Recorded under his given name until converting in 1947.
Raqib Hassan – Saxophone, musette, various ethnic reed instruments. Suntologist Raqib Hassan is a Sufi Dervish of the Nimatullahi order.
Billy Higgins – m:Abdal Karim. Drums. assoc:Cal Tjader, Ornette Coleman, Teddy Edwards, Buel Neidlinger, Donald Byrd, Herbie Hanckcok, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobly, Lee Morgan, Sonny Rollins, Clifford Jordan, Idrees Sulieman, Art Farmer, Walter Bishop Jr, Bobby Watson, Art Pepper, Cedar Walton.
Lynn Hope – m:El Hajj Abdullah Rasheed. Saxophone. Mostly recorded singles (78s) during the fifties. Often considered an R&B player.
Ahmad Jamal – b:Frederick Russell (Fritz) Jones. Piano. Jamal spent nearly his entire career as a bandleader.
Khan Jamal – b:Warren Robert Cheeseboro. Vibraphone. assoc:Billy Bang, Sunny Murray, Ronald Shannon Jackson
Hakim Jami – b:Finroy Hayes. Bass, euphonium. assoc:Archie Shepp, Hilton Ruiz, Don Cherry
Talib Qadir Kibwe – Saxophone, flute. assoc:Randy Weston, Jimmy Scott, Benny Powell, Jayne Cortez. Also records as T.K. Blue
Yusef Lateef – b:William Emmanuel Huddleston. m:Yusef Abdul Lateef. Saxophone, flute. assoc:Dizzy Gillespie, Randy Weston, Grant Green, Art Blakey, Most sources (books and album liner notes) state William Evans is Lateef_s given name, but some, like Wikipedia and his own website, state William Emanuel Huddleston was his given name. He recorded as _Bill Evans_ with Dizzy Gillespie in the forties, before converting to Islam. The Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians states that he was born Huddleston, but his father changed the family name to Evans when Lateef was young.
Maurice McIntyre – m:Kalaparusha Ahra Difda. Saxophone, flute, percussion, bass clarinet assoc:Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, George Freeman, Leroy Jenkins. Also records as Kalaprusha Maurice McIntyre.
Bernard McKinney, Kiane Zawadi – b:Bernard Atwell McKinney. m:Kiane Zawadi. Euphonium, trombone, assoc:Freddie Hubbard, Archie Shepp, McCoy Tyner, Donald Byrd, Sun Ra
Jackie McLean – b:John Lenwood McLean. m:Omar Hamed Abdul Kariem. Saxophone. assoc:Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, George Wallinton, Charles Mingus, Art Taylor, Art Blakey, Sonny Clark, Donald Byrd
Jemeel Moondoc – Saxophone. assoc:Khan Jamal, William Parker, Hamid Drake
Morgan, Frank – Saxophone. assoc:Art Pepper, Art Farmer, Wardell Gray, Kenny Clark, Milt Jackson
Hakeem Muhammad – b:Lester Allyson Knibbs. Piano.
Idris Muhammad b:Leo Morris. Drums. assoc:Gene Ammons, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Criss, Stanley Turrentine, Lonnie Smith, Pharoah Sanders, Grant Green, Rusty Bryant. Most titles under his own name are disco records.
Big John Patton – b:John Eugene Patton. m:Ya Ya. Organ. assoc:John Zorn, Grant Green, Johnny Griffin, Don Wilkerson, Red Holloway
Rudy Powell – b:Rudolph Powell. m:Musheed Karween. Saxophone. assoc:Edgar Hayes, Milt Buckner, Billy Holiday, Jimmy Rushing, Teddy Wilson. Worked mostly as a sideman throughout his career.
Nadi Qamar – b:Spaulding Givens. Piano, percussion. Nina Simone, Andrew Hill, Charles Mingus. Recordings under his own name have been of African music.
Freddy Robinson – b:Fred Leroy Robinson. m:Abu Talib. Guitar. assoc:Blue Mitchell, Gene Harris, Night Blooming Jazzmen, Stanley Turrentine, Jazz Crusaders. Robinson is mostly known as a blues musician, but he played on some jazz recordings, too.
A.K.Salim – b:Albert Atkinson. m:Ahmad Khatab Salim. Composer, arranger. assoc:Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Cannonball Aderley
Pharoah Sanders – b:Farrell Sanders. Saxophone. In research for this project several items were found that suggest that Sanders is a Muslim, however there is no evidence that this is the case, even though the titles of his compositions often have Muslim-like themes and he dresses in Afro-Islamic attire. He is not associated with any Muslim name.
Saheb Sarib – b:Jean Henri Sarbib. Bass. assoc:Archie Shepp, Muhammad Ali. His father was Roger Sarbib, a French musician.
Majid Shabazz – b:Benjamin McGriff. Percussion. assoc:Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders
Tarik Shah – Bass. assoc:Abbey Lincoln, Pharoah Sanders. Tarik Shah was arrested for terrorism in 2005.
Jaribu Shahid – b:Henderson Glenn. Bass. assoc:Sun Ra, Roscoe Mitchell, James Carter, David Murray, Geri Allen. Some early recordings show him listed as “Ben” rather than “Glenn” Henderson.
Sahib Shihab – b:Edmund Gregory. Saxophone. assoc:Kenny Clarke, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Milt Jackson, Tadd Dameron, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie.
Wadada Leo Smith – b:Leo Smith. m:Ishmael Wadada. Trumpet. assoc:Anthony Braxton, Marion Brown, Muhal Richard Abrams, Frank Lowe. Many sources state that he is Rastafarian. However, in an interview on his own website he discusses the philosophy of Islam. Apparently, he converted to Islam after being a Rastafarian.
Dakota Staton – m:Ailyah Rabia. Vocal. assoc:Talib Dawud, George Shearing. Was married to Talib Ahmad Dawud.
Idrees Sulieman – b:Leonard Graham. Trumpet. assoc:Thelonious Monk, Mal Waldron, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Clarke
Charles Sulivan – b:Kamau Muata Adilifu. Trumpet. assoc:McCoy Tyner, Roswell Rudd, Sam Rivers , Eddie Jefferson
Jamaaladeen Tacuma – b:Rudy McDaniel. Bass guitar. assoc:Ornette Coleman, Walt Dickerson, James Blood Ulmer
McCoy Tyner – b:Alfred McCoy Tyner. m:Salaimon Saud. Piano. assoc:John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Wayne Shorter.
James Blood Ulmer – b:James Ulmer. m:Damu Mustafa Abdul Musawwir. Guitar. assoc:George Adams, John Patton, Arthur Blythe, David Murray, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Music Revelation Ensemble.
Abdul Wadud – b:Ronald DeVaughan. m:Abdul Khabir Wadud Cello. assoc:Anthony Davis, James Newton, Mysterious Flying Orchestra, Julius Hemphill, Arthur Blythe, Cecil Taylor, Frank Lowe, Sam Rivers.
Nasheet Waits – assoc:Antonio Hart, Jason Moran, Fred Hersch, Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill, Eddie Gomez. Son of drummer Fredrick Waits. It is possible that Nasheet Waits is his given name.
J.J. Wiggins, Hassan Shakur – Bass. assoc:Monty Alexander, Craig Hundley, Al Grey, Mercer Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Gerald Wiggins Son of Gerald Wiggins. First recorded with the Craig Hundley Trio as “Jay Jay Wiggins”.
Orlando Wright, Musa Kaleem – Saxophone, flute. assoc:Art Blakey, Tiny Grimes, Kenny Dorham, Max Roach, James Moody.
Larry Young – b:Larry John McCoy. m:Khalid Yasin (Abdal Aziz). Organ, piano. assoc:Jimmy Forrest, Grant Green, Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Tony Williams.
Originally published as part of Muslim World Music Day, April 12 2011. The ARChive of Contemporary Music