I went to junior high and high school in Minneapolis, and when I returned to Kansas City in 1971, I started hearing about Alaadeen. When I got to hear him play, I was knocked out. But I have to admit that I didn’t really appreciate him until after I went to New York. I realized that in all these cities there were great musicians like Alaadeen who had touched greatness, been in contact with Miles and different folks, but didn’t go to New York to live. When I came back to Kansas City to teach at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, I came to really understand that he was one of the masters. Our relationship grew as I grew to understand the deepness of his music and how not all jazz is New York-driven—that all the cats aren’t in New York. New York is not the be-all, end-all.
He had another life going, and as I grew older I realized that that was the kind of life I wanted. He was just one of the guys. He loved to fish, so he kept a pole in his car. When he’d see some water, he’d stop. Gerald Dunn used to go fishing with him a lot. That was one of those things I was always saying I was going to do, because I love to go fishing too. But I just never got to it. He had a bunch of fishing buddies and they’d get in the car and go. There was this one place they’d go to fish they named “Lake Alaadeen.” Maybe I didn’t go with them because they went so early, and the only time I get up at 5 in the morning is when I have to. But I regret that now.
He really was a player from Kansas City. He was an authority on the R&B-jazz style. He came from that tradition of improvisation of getting hot, where there weren’t any chord changes and they just had the melody and they’d get hot on it. So he carried that forward. He was the go-to guy whenever we had a question or a dispute on the music. He was very soft-spoken, so when he talked everybody listened. He didn’t raise his voice; he’d just watch. He was always quiet, well-dressed, stayed to himself, wouldn’t put himself out there like a lot of musicians might. He knew he could put his stuff out there every week, but he had a price that he wanted when he came out to play. Whenever he came out and played, it was special.
Like him, I did mostly R&B bands growing up, though not on the level he was doing it, especially given the time when Alaadeen was playing that music and who he was playing with. He grew up with that music. He was like a poet on that horn, and whatever he did he could play the blues. Even though he was a devout Muslim, he still had a lot of “church” in him, too. With the blues, gospel is closely related.
He was very serious about his religion. He went to Mecca about three years ago and made the pilgrimage to Hajj. But he wasn’t the kind of Muslim that you didn’t feel comfortable being around. He wasn’t judgmental. When I went to this funeral, that’s when I realized how deeply involved he was with his faith. He had an Islamic funeral and a lot of his brothers, including young people, were there from the mosque. He didn’t dress in traditional Muslim clothing. He always had a nice Stetson on or something like that. He kept his beliefs to himself. His faith was between him and the creator, but he walked the walk in how he treated people and his heart was clear.
He was a very good man and very supportive of young folks. Whenever I would call him to do something for me or play with me or do something for the school, he would always be there for me. He was a great teacher. He made the students play a lot and he listened to the students and he always got to the heart of the matter, which to him was the melody. I’m just happy that I was able to get him involved with the school and the students got a chance to know him, because he went really quickly. I just wanted everybody to know Alaadeen. I’m so happy I did.
I know that he became one of my influences on the horn. I carry some of him around inside of me every time I play, and I know that every saxophonist in Kansas City would and will say the same thing.
[As told to Lee Mergner]