Obscure Trumpet Masters #9 – Idrees Sulieman

Idrees Sulieman (1923 – 2002)

The thing to realize about Idrees is that he went back to the very beginnings of bebop, took part in some of the most interesting hard bop of the ’50s with Coltrane and others, played lead for Tadd Dameron alongside Clifford Brown; he…was still stretching and sounding as modern as anyone in the ’70s, ’80s, and even in the ’90s. – Brian Lynch

“Bell-clear tone, swings hard, creative soloist – Find more of his stuff!!”

Those are the words I scribbled on a scrap of paper about Idrees Sulieman when I first heard him 25 years ago, on an album called The CatsI found that paper about a year ago, inside that LP’s sleeve.  It caused me to go back and start revisiting Mr. Sulieman’s work… I’m still impressed.

Born Leonard Graham in St. Petersburg, FL, in 1923; he changed his name to Idrees Sulieman when he converted to Islam. Sulieman originally wanted to be a sax player, but switched to the trumpet because his father could not afford a saxophone.  (During the ‘60’s, Sulieman again picked up the alto sax and became fairly proficient) Sulieman studied at the Boston Conservatory and gained early experience with the Carolina Cotton Pickers.  He left to join the Earl Hines Big Band in 1943. Bird and Diz were both in the Hines Band then and it had a profound effect on Sulieman. Diz’s play inspired Sulieman to perfect his own style.

During the mid ‘40’s, in addition to Hines, Sulieman logged time with Mary Lou Williams, Cab Calloway and Thelonious Monk. In fact, Sulieman’s played on Monk’s first sides, in 1947. By the mid’50’s, he had found his niche as a top flight bebop sideman. He appeared on Max Roach’s first studio album in 1953 and alongside Gigi Gryce on Mal-1, Mal Waldron’s first disc.

This is “Humph” from Monk’s Genius of Modern Music – Volume 1, which includes some of those ’47 sessions:

Other notable turns as a sideman or co-leader include The Hawk Flies High a Coleman Hawkins session, with Hank Jones, J.J. Johnson, Oscar Pettiford and Papa Jo Jones (Check out “Juicy Fruit” – Sulieman holds a single note for 57 seconds, thanks to circular breathing techniques.);  Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors, along with John Coltrane, Donald Byrd and Bobby Jaspar; Coolin’ with vibraphonist Teddy Charles and Waldron; Three Trumpets with Byrd and Art Farmer and the aforementioned The Cats with Coltrane, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell, Louis Hayes and Doug Watkins.  Their version of Flanagan’s “Minor Mishap”(below)  is on my list of all-time favorite jazz performances.

The early ‘60’s saw Sulieman moving to Stockholm, where he played with Eric Dolphy, Bud Powell and Don Byas. He cut his first disc as a leader, The Camel, for Swedish Columbia, in 1964. He also returned to big band work, with a decade’s worth of fine recordings with the Clarke-Boland Big Band and the Danish Radio Orchestra, after moving to Copenhagen.

Although Sulieman was on the scene for parts of six decades, his discography as a leader is surprisingly thin.  His three albums for Steeplechase are all available. The best of these is Now Is The Time, from 1976, with Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and Higgins. Though it was almost 20 years after The Cats, Sulieman was as strong and swinging as ever.

Though he performed sparingly during his later years, Sulieman remained a prolific composer.  His estate includes a horde of compositions that were never recorded.  Trumpeter Don Sickler’s publishing company, Second Floor Music, published the tunes but much of it is still unperformed. Brian Lynch has begun to rectify that, by recording four Sulieman works on his recent Unsung Heroes project.

Sulieman died of bladder cancer in his native St. Petersburg on July 23, 2002. He left an impressive and eclectic body of work that should be heard; though it takes a bit of cross referencing to find.

Trust me, he’s worth it.

Recommended Recordings:

8 Responses to “Obscure Trumpet Masters #9 – Idrees Sulieman”

  1. started the day with the two videos you provide here. May your day be filled with great tunes.

  2. Best bio on Idrees Sulieman that I’ve read. I got to know him over the last 2 years of his life. He was composing, studying and practicing on alto. He was looking into Coltrane’s harmonic structures. He was most proud of his work with the F/B Big Band. He retained his sense of curiousity, exploration and appreciation of beauty. And, despite the fact that he had witnessed some of the most heinous behavior humans are capable of, Idrees continued to show humor and generousity. A Florida teacher/Jazz DJ spent time with him working on his discography at some point in the 90’s. Idrees Sulieman’s 88th birthday anniversary was earlier this month on August 7th. Thank you Idrees. And thank you Curt!

  3. Make that C/B (as in Clarke-Boland) Big Band….

  4. Hi Curt,

    I owned a LP reissue of The Cats which was packaged with another Coltrane/Burrell record. I loved Idrees’ playing.

    One day in 1978, I went to a NYC jam session and heard a great trumpeter whom I thought just HAD to be Idrees Sulieman! I didn’t have a picture of him so I had no way of knowing who it really was. It turned out to be none other than #10 on your list: Tommy Turrentine!

    You really know your trumpet players!

  5. Thanks for the wonderful words about Idrees. And thanks for mentioning Brian Lynch’s recordings and me (Don Sickler). Idrees spent some time with us in NY during the 1990s and we got to know him, and his music, well. We’re trying to expose his music to more musicians by way of our website jazzleadsheets.com, where we sell some of Idrees’ lead sheets as well as those of many other jazz composers. August 7 we’re celebrating his birthday with a birthday video on our site. Play the music!

  6. The Bird’s Grass session is really great with Kenny Clarke on drums. Highly recommended!

  7. The term JAZZ cannot begin to describe Idress Suliman and Horace Tapscott,introspection is the word that moves this music.

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