Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sadik Hakim, 1919-1983: A Vignette from My Diary

It may be, as the Buddhist proverb has it, that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  When Sadik Hakim briefly appeared in my life, however, I wasn't ready, and wouldn't be for more than a third of a century, that is, until it was too late.  So, maybe he wasn't supposed to be "the teacher," right?  He was certainly, however, "present at the creation" of arguably the world's greatest music, and if I had known then what I learned later, I could have benefited from our chance encounter even more than I did.

He was born 91 years ago today in Duluth, christened Argonne Thornton.  On November 26, 1945, this denizen of 52nd Street in its glorious Bebop period had alternated with Dizzy Gillespie on piano on Charlie Parker's immortal "Ko-Ko" date. According to his Wikipedia entry, "Hakim is credited with co-writing Thelonious Monk's standard 'Eronel' and is rumored to have written a few famous bop tunes credited to other composers. He adopted his Muslim name in 1947." 


The most common, and most apt, adjective associated with Sadik Hakim is "unsung."  Although the average jazz fan cannot recognize his name, I have run into it repeatedly, and unexpectedly, in many of the jazz biographies I've read in the last few years.   For example, I'll pick up From Swing to Bop (p. 305), only to read Shelly Manne's memory of a night at the Onyx on 52nd Street in the early '40s when big Ben Webster knocked over nearly every table to dissuade some rowdy solider on leave from further pestering his pianist.  Or just today, when I consulted Feather and Gitler's The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz for information on a former music teacher of mine, saxist Paul Jeffrey (with whom I took a single, but valuable, lesson in 1974), I learned that Professor Jeffrey had played with Hakim in 1961.

Some of Sadik Hakim's memories of befriending as well as working with Bird are recorded in Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker, edited by Robert Reisner.  It was because I had read this book sometime before November 19, 1976, that I was able to appreciate to some extent the good fortune of his gregariously striking up a conversation with me, a total stranger, that night at Bradley's (70 University Place, 1969-1996).

I was there to see legendary bop-era guitarist Jimmy Raney, who did not disappoint. (He played Bird's "Billie's Bounce" at my request, and his son, Doug, sat in for one or two numbers.) During the second set I was, according to my diary, "joined at my table by Sadik (I think that's it) who knew all the greats.  It was great talking to him.  After the second set I walked him over to Sweet Basil's [88 Seventh Avenue South] where George Coleman was blowing an alto [sax] apart.  On the way, I recall [to him] somebody from a book on Charlie Parker who had a Moslem name and who knew Bird well.  It turns out it was he!!  He doesn't drink or smoke; he lives his religion.  I was very impressed with him.  He's going on tour now with somebody." 

In 1978, he recorded Sonny Stitt Meets Sadik Hakim. Listen to clips from Witches, Goblins, etc. on Amazon for instant evidence that he was "the real thing."

He accomplished much more than I can summarize usefully in a post, but a quick search will bring you to the most salient facts.  He passed away in June of 1983, about a year after playing "Round Midnight" at the funeral of Thelonious Monk.

In 1976 I could not have imagined paying tribute to him this way.  Thank you, Sadik, for going out of your way to touch my life, however fleetingly, not in cyberspace, but at Bradley's.  I wish I had gone out of my way to keep in touch, but my self-esteem, or lack thereof, wasn't up to the task.  I had foolishly undervalued the evidence of your accessibility and ruled myself out.

Perhaps I'm learning from you after all.  Happy Birthday, Teacher.  Requiescas in pace.

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