5 October 2006
SAHIB SHIHAB - SUMMER DAWN
Another rarity from Sahib Shihab this time from 1964 and the Argo label featuring the usual suspects-Boland,Jimmy Woode,Kenny Clarke,Joe Harris et al.This features the much compiled Please Dont Leave Me but the rest of the lp is equally good if not better.Not a duff track amongst 'em-all killer no filler!For those of you who would like to know more about Shihab I have lifted the following write up from AllAboutJazz
Many thanks to Killer Groove Music Library for the cover photo.
Jazz music has more than its fair share of overshadowed figures that whilst contributing much to the music have little presence in its collective conscious. One such musician is the talented multi-reedist, Sahib Shihab, who despite emigrating from the United States in the early 1960s managed to have a significant impact on the scene. Recording with some of the legends of bop, before embarking on a European career in jazz as a soloist and member of the successful Clarke Boland Big Band.
He was born Edmond Gregory in Savannah, Georgia in 1925, his earliest professional experience playing alto with Luther Hendersons band, at the tender age of thirteen. After a period of study at the Boston Conservatory he went on to play with trumpet great Roy Eldridge and lead alto with Fletcher Henderson in the mid forties. Here he was still billed as Eddie Gregory but in 1947 he became an early jazz convert to Islam, rather quaintly referred to as Mohammedanism in the vernacular of the day.
The Bop explosion of the late 1940s that swept through jazz gripped Sahib Shihab, as many others and he quickly became one of the leading Parker influenced altoists of the day. Proving himself well equipped to deal with the complexities of the new music, he contributed to a series of classic sides with Theolonius Monk, between 1947-51 laying down some of the cornerstones of Bops recorded history, including the original version of Round About Midnight. The self styled eccentric genius was an influential figure both on and off the bandstand and Shihabs later work on Baritone owes a debt to Monks quirky and individual approach to the music.
During this period he also found time to appear on many recordings by popular jazz artists including Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Benny Golson, Tadd Dameron and on John Coltrane?s first full session as leader for Prestige, First Trane. The invitation to play with Dizzy Gillespies big band in the early fifties was of particular significance as it marked Sahib?s switch to Baritone, the instrument he became most readily associated with.
By the end of the fifties Sahib Shihab had become increasingly embittered by the position of the jazzman in the United States and in particular racial tension. " I was getting tired of the atmosphere around New York," he informed downbeat in 1963. "And I wanted to get away from some of the prejudice. I dont have time for this racial bit. It depletes my energies." So in 1959 he leapt at the chance to depart its shores and join Quincy Jones band, touring with the musical Free and Easy. He stayed with the band after the musical ended, travelling around Europe until engagements eventually ran out and the band was wound up. He decided to make Scandinavia his home and lived between Denmark and Sweden according to work permit allowances for the next twelve years. Here he found the "survival and peace of mind" he needed and was soon active writing scores for television, cinema and the theatre and secured work at Copenhagen Polytechnic.
In 1961 he joined the enduring big band of fellow ex-patriot Kenny Clarke and the unorthodox Belgian pianist/composer Francy Boland. Sahib Shihab remained a key figure in the band for its 12 year run. Contributing his gruff, fluent sound on baritone and his fluttering expressive flute to many recordings and live settings. His idiosyncratic and distinctive style was well suited to the unpredictable arrangements of the band.
His own work from the 1960s and early 70s provides a fascinating document of a man completely at home with the idea of individuality and self-expression. While his earlier influences of swing and his days with Monk are evident, he manages to define himself on a variety of standards, ballads, and his own unusual compositions, often featuring curious arrangements and tempo changes. His flute technique is highlighted on the roaring Om Mani Padme Hum where, over a driving minor Latin groove; he applies his rich full tone along with an array of vocal expressions not dissimilar to Roland Kirk or Yusef Lateef. In the percussive Seeds Sahib plays Baritone against a sparse conga rhythm to great effect, utilizing its hoarse, rasping sound and its guttural expressiveness. Deep-throated honks sharply punctuate his flowing lines as he soars into new passages of invention full of warmth and humour. His sometimes eccentric playing is always saying something fresh and his unorthodoxy is beguiling.
Despite Sahibs more relaxed environment, his marriage to a Danish lady and raising a family in Europe, he remained a resolutely conscious African-American, still sensitive to racial issues. Danish friends regarded him as a mild mannered gentle man, unless riled by the issues of racial inequality and injustice. On the evening of the death of Malcolm X Shihab played an engagement with the CBBB in Cologne. As his turn approached to solo he stood and fingered the notes as vigorously as ever but refrained from making a note with his horn. Producing only an angry hissing noise, for the duration of his chorus. Making his anger, frustration and bitterness abundantly clear.
In 1973 Sahib Shihab returned to the United States for a three-year hiatus, working as a session man for rock and pop artists and also doing some copywriting for local musicians. He spent his remaining years between New York and Europe and played in a successful partnership with Art Farmer. Sahib Shihab died in Tennessee in 1989.
A shadowy fugitive from his home in the land of jazz, Sahib Shihab remains a true unsung figure, worthy of more attention. With his equally expert technique on Baritone, Flute, Alto and Soprano saxophones and his capacity to adapt easily to a variety of musical settings. His warm, individual, singsong sound in improvisation and his unusual and interesting compositions mark him out as a hidden treasure in the dusty corners of jazz archive.