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Abdullah Ibrahim: Grace Under Pressure

From apartheid and exile to belated recognition, the newly-minted Jazz Master's storied career is a case study in artistic endurance

Abdullah Ibrahim (photo: Gabrie lBertogg)
Abdullah Ibrahim (photo: Gabriel Bertogg)

“Could you please hold it a moment?” Abdullah Ibrahim asks, staving off my question. “Just so I can prepare my tea.”

We are sitting in a small conference room at Ibrahim’s Washington, D.C. hotel a day after he’d been honored at the Kennedy Center’s 2019 NEA Jazz Masters tribute concert. A server stands before us, pouring hot water. Ibrahim isn’t brusque in pre-empting me; he doesn’t even seem particularly annoyed. But the 84-year-old South African pianist and composer personifies dignity. He insists on a certain respect, a certain protocol.

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.