Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Ahmad Alaadeen- Dysfunctional

Alaadeen lives!

Dysfunctional: Life Journeys of a Second Generation Jazz Musician, makes the spirit of Ahmad Alaadeen accessible to anyone seeking communion with the late saxophonist. The new oral autobiography serves as the ultimate insider jazz hang. It's essential reading for every serious student of Kansas City jazz history.

Alaadeen may be known to only a few jazz cognoscenti outside of Kansas City, but in spite of his relatively low profile, he knew and worked with the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Jay McShann, Billie Holiday and Sam Cooke. Dysfunctional includes intriguing and often off-color stories about each of them. The 147-page book also provides insights into local figures like Eddie Baker, David Basse, Sonny Kenner, Harold O'Neal, Joe Thomas and Dennis Winslett. While I had heard several of these stories, most are new to me. And it's nice to have them all in one place.

Alaadeen also provides new perspectives on local history and landmarks. He proposes that The Boone Theater, the abandoned Kansas City venue that returned to the news just this month, be restored as a cultural community center.

One of Dysfunctional's pitfalls is its lack of footnotes. Readers unfamiliar with Kansas City and its jazz scene aren't provided with much context. Similarly, I was unable to read between the lines in his otherwise fascinating discussion of Nation of Islam politics.

Along with Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Parker was one of Alaadeen's three primary musical heroes. Much as Parker fans around the world acknowledge his ongoing influence by invoking the phrase "Bird lives," readers of Dysfunctional will know that Alaadeen is still very much with us.

(Full disclosure: The author of Plastic Sax is one many names mentioned in Dysfunctional's acknowledgements. Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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