Meet Ahmad Alaadeen: Born in Kansas City, Alaadeen grew up around music. "I listened to all types of styles. I went to Philharmonic concerts, loved Lester Young, liked T-Bone Walker and was crazy about Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson." He began on the saxophone when he was in sixth grade, in time also mastering flute, clarinet and oboe. Alaadeen debuted as a professional when he was fourteen, and his first major job was playing baritone sax with the great pianist/bandleader Jay McShann. In later years he would rejoin McShann on tenor.
Alaadeen studied at the Kansas City Conservatory of Music (studying flute, since the educators did not think of the saxophone as a legitimate instrument), St. Mary's College (where he studied oboe) and DePaul University. He served in the military during 1957-59, being the jazz saxophonist and principle oboist with the 4th Army Band. After his discharge, Alaadeen spent time in Chicago, playing in a program led by pianist/composer Richard Abrams that was the beginning of the AACM; other members included trumpeter Lester Bowie and bassist Malachi Favors.
The saxophonist picked up a lot of experience living and playing in such cities as Chicago, Denver, Houston, San Antonio, New York and St. Louis. In addition to McShann, he had opportunities to work in a countless number of settings including stints with Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, the Count Basie Orchestra, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson and with Motown stars Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations and Sam Cooke.
Teachers and/or influences? From 1948 to 1952, I attended R.T. Coles High School under the tutelage of Leo H. Davis, where I was schooled to be a professional musician. Leo Davis was reported to be Charlie Parker's teacher, although Davis claimed that he didn't remember Bird. Davis was credited with teaching the musicians of Kansas City how to read music. That was really my start loving the music because he had so much to offer. R.T. Coles was like a trade school or an academy, because I had four hours of music every day, freshman through senior year, plus an hour of theory; at that time they called it harmony.
The school was at 19th & Tracy in Kansas City, so it's right down in the jazz district. It was fascination. In fact, I had my union card when I was a sophomore in High School. Leo Davis, by being the school teacher, was also the director of the municipal band, which was a concert band that would play by the park, Paseo Park. I played second horn in the band. I also played an E-flat horn, called a peck horn, played the after-beat on the marches and stuff like that.
While I was a student at R.T. Coles I would play hooky and come up to the 18th & Vine area. The song says, "Come with me if you want to go to Kansas City." There's a phrase in there that says "in Miss Creamy's Dreamy town." I knew Miss Creamy. I would actually go in Miss Creamy's. And this was the atmosphere that this music was in. At R.T. Coles, we would benefit from assembly performances by big bands including The Lionel Hampton Band and The Billy Eckstein Band, and impromptu classroom appearances by Elmer Price and other local musicians. At one school assembly, The Lionel Hampton band was playing "Flying Home." We were sitting in the orchestra pit. Scotty (Clifford Scott) jumped off the stage, right over our heads and started walking on the seats. The principal, H. I. Harewell, went off: "Oh, we can't have any more of this in our school, desecrating our property." He didn't like musicians because he caught one with his wife. He banned musicians from public assemblies after the Clifford Scott visit. After that the students would refer to Scott as "Bat Man."
When I left there, I was ready for the Pro ranks.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... The bug hit me at the tender age of about five. I was living three or four doors down the street from Jay McShann at around 10th & Park at the time. I would constantly hear all of this commotion coming from Jay's house - like people having a good time. They were blowing and playing and stuff like that. The music really moved me beyond description. However, my mother told me: "Boy, don't you leave this porch. If you leave this porch, I'm going to have to do something to you."
But despite the forewarned consequences, the music had a stronger influence than my mother's order not to go any closer to listen. One day, the urge was too much and I left the porch to go down to Jay's house. I recall looking through the screen door and seeing these people just having a good time playing this music. And from there, my mind was made up and I said that's what I want to do.
After several moments of actually being up close and watching the musicians as I listened to their music, I thought about what my mother said. I immediately ran back home to our porch. Of course, she was there waiting on me. That particular band, which I heard rehearsing almost everyday was, of course, Jay McShann's famous unit. It also included Charlie Parker. The positive impact of this experience stayed with me. My love for music and choice of occupation was cemented.
Your sound and approach to music: It takes a long, long time before you can come into your own. You have to have a starting point. I've had several strong influences.
First, Charlie Parker. Then here comes Miles Davis. And then here comes John Coltrane. What I call the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost! The three guys I love most! They are three distinct personalities, but they had an effect on me because they were so real in what they were playing, and they were spontaneous. They were something different I had never heard before, so I began to emulate and imitate that. Put it all together, mix it all up. It's like what Coltrane said; everybody dips out of one big bowl. Everybody is contributing. So, that's the way I learned. Eventually I began to play from within myself, because I had something to say other than what they had influenced me with.
Anecdote from the road: I associated with Miles Davis quite a bit in the fifties. Miles was a student at Julliard, but he said he learned more from Charlie Parker than he did at Julliard. I first met Miles, in 1950, when my high school friend and I skipped school and went to Miles' hotel room. They were advertising that Miles Davis was coming to play at the Boulevard Room. Back at that time these guys would travel around and barnstorm, travel to different cities and play as singles with whoever the local rhythm section was in that particular town.
So Miles comes in; I think he was there for a week or two. We found out where he was staying so we went up to visit him; I had my horn, my friend had his trumpet. We went to the desk and asked what room Miles was in. We went up and knocked on the door, knocked and knocked, and finally Miles came to the door, naked. He says, "What do you little (famous Miles expletive, plural version) want?" We said, "We come to see you, man." He looks at us and says, "Come on in." We went in and sat down, and he went back to bed. This was about 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning. He slept until around noon. We're still sitting there.
He comes out and says, "Are you m-fers still here? Are you hungry?" He gave us some money and told us to go across the street and get some salami and crackers and a pickle. We did that. But we made the mistake of getting a hot pickle. He bit down into this pickle and started cussing, "What are you trying to do? Yang, yang, yang," you know. He cussed us out bad.
Later, I performed with Miles a lot. I asked Miles to show me some changes and he replied, "Don't worry about it; you're from Bird's home town." One time when I was performing with Miles, they were playing a tune that I didn't know. I was trying to learn the tune while Miles was taking his solo, I was fingering the keys. Evidently, I was making too much noise, so Miles turned around and told me to stop it. But I knew that my solo was coming next so I kept on trying to learn the tune. This time Miles turned around, he didn't say any thing, just punched me in the jaw."
What is in the near future? Right now I am working on my methods book. I learned jazz at the sides of the masters, not in a formal college. We would never memorize anyone's solos or imitate the way someone would play. We had to have our own unique style or we would be kicked off the bandstand. My book will include my teaching methods that are unique to the way in which I learned jazz. Things I learned before jazz was introduced into schools and universities. I'll also include some stories from my career.
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