Take Five With Ahmad Alaadeen

AAJ Staff By

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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.

Instrument(s): Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute.

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.


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