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Idris Muhammad: Coming to Grips with His Greatness

R.J. DeLuke By

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AAJ: You must have recorded hundreds of records.

IM: There's a studio called Rudy Van Gelder's in New Jersey. One guy in Las Vegas was doing a story on his life and he called me for some comment. Rudy and I were good friends. As a matter of fact, it was Rudy who opened up my drum sound, so you could hear it on the radio and knew it was me. Rudy's studio was like a pyramid inside.

So this guy was asking me about Rudy and I told him and he said, "I have all of the records that you recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's. If you like I can send you a catalog of everything you ever recorded." He sent it to me and much to my surprise there was like 136 albums that I did at Rudy's alone.

AAJ: Over the years in jazz, you've played with so many guys.

IM: Many guys. Many guys. I haven't clocked the other stuff that I did. There are other studios in New York, you know, and Chicago.

I would like to stop traveling and just go fishin' and smoke my Cuban cigars and drink Diet Coke. I would like to enjoy a little bit of my life, come off of the road and not die here on the road. I'm playin' a lot. I've done a lot of great things in my lifetime. And I know I can play. Some guys never reach their goal of what they're trying to achieve in life, you know? My life has been quite fruitful. There's not many things that I'd like to do that I still haven't done. Now, since my kids are all grown up and they're livin' a good life and everybody's happy, I'd like to just try to enjoy a little life, by livin' in a warm climate, fishin' and smoking Cuban cigars.

I'll play, but I won't travel as much as I do today. Travelin' today is kind of hectic with the [September 11] crisis and being in the airport. It's good. I like it, and I like to be safe. But I'm 62 now and I've traveled for 47 years, I've been on the road 47 years and I'm thinkin' that I don't really want die out here.

AAJ: When you stop, you'll still do studio work?

IM: I wanna play when I wanna play because I wanna play. Not because I gotta pay a mortgage, you know what I mean? Not because I gotta pay the rent and the light bill and all like that. I wanna do what I wanna do. A lot of us, we don't get a chance to do that. And when we do, we're too damn old. We live a little while and the next thing you know, we're dead. Because the system's got it set up like that. You can't retire until 65, and at 65, man, you might be crippled or some shit. [laughter]

So I'm trying to do it now. I like to play, man. I like to make people happy. But I just came off a tour with Joe Lovano in Europe. I just was out in California with the Newport Jazz things, then Joe and I left there and went straight to Europe. So for the whole month we were on the road, man. We was playin' music, movin' from one country to the other. It's good and it's great, you know? But I think I got somethin' nicer to do in my life these days [laughter]. It's just that I think I'd like to do something else. I don't wanna be uptight for some money. If I'm gonna do it, it's because I wanna do it, not because I need the money to do it.

A lot of us don't get this chance and they love the music so much that they do it until they say "He used to play better than that." I don't wanna do that, man. If it gets to that point, I'm goin' fishin.' If I can't make you happy with this job, then I'm not gonna do it. It's my outlook of how I wanna play this music. I've had a wonderful career and I wanna keep it like that. I want to leave you with how good it was and how much fun we had and leave it like that.

AAJ: No regrets?

IM: Yeah. I had a good life, man. And I'm healthy. That's the other part of it. I survived through a lot of stuff, man, and I'm still healthy. And I still can play. My kids is sayin' to me, "Pop, you ought to go to Florida, go back to New Orleans, go someplace." I gotta check it out. I was thinking of going to St. Lucia. But these days I don't wanna be no place ... I lived eight years in England and nine years in Austria, because I took my kids abroad to be educated. Now they're grown up. I lived in Europe a lot. These days in crisis, I don't wanna be outside of the country no more. I don't wanna have to be some place and then have to get back to the States. I think I'll just stay in the States somewhere, get me a warm climate and go fishin,' man.

I just wanna enjoy life a little bit and have good vibes and good spirits around me.

Photo Credit: Dr. Jazz

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