We met 52 years ago in the bowels of the corporate building that is known as Seagrams and Sons, on 53rd and Park Avenue. Synchronicity has been a part of our friendship from beginning to end. On the day we met, I was coming up from the basement where I had staked out a place to practice my trumpet during lunch. When you’re playing catch up in this music, as I was, who needs lunch?
Ramsey was working as a computer analyst I was working as a clerk. He saw me with my trumpet, and the conversation and our friendship that would last more than a half-century began.
He knew about Bach, Stravinsky, and Bartok, and I knew about Ornette, Eric Dolphy, and Monk. That’s how it began. I brought him into the first group I performed with called The Master Brotherhood. Even though the other members of the band weren’t initially so accepting of his classical inclinations, he grew on folks. Yes, Ramsey grew on folks to the point that the last conversation I had with him on July 22, 2019, was about him playing with the saxophonist from that group, Joe Rigby. They had apparently done a concert together a couple of months before.
We used to have jam sessions at Ramsey’s apartment on 94th street between 2nd and 1st avenues. I used to bring musicians by to jam there. Later on, he moved to Brooklyn on President Street. We also had jam sessions there. The drawing that I’m using for this CD titled “I am the Soul of Ra” was created while he was on President Street. During an inspirational moment, he had painted the keys of his piano different colors that corresponded to the vibrational frequencies of the tones. One night he had a dream which obviously took him back to his Egyptian roots, and this etching was the result. He gave it to me, and I have kept it with me for over 40 years. My belief is that it is a symbol of our friendship.
Somewhere in between the time he lived on President Street and the time he moved to Hoboken, New Jersey, he became a member of the first band I initiated as a leader. I had created the band in 1972, but by 1977 when I was working with Sun Ra, my name and reputation had spread. The band simply called Abdullah, worked the lofts in the mid-seventies. I can recall gigs at Studio RivBea, The Brook and Ali’s Alley. The members of the band included the Birmingham saxophonist Arthur Doyle and Ramsey in the front line along with me and the guitarist Musajaa, bassist Richard Williams aka Radu ben Judah along with Rashied Sinan in the rhythm section. The gigs we played at these venues were significant for both Ramsey’s career in the music, as well as mine. At The Brook we were reviewed in the Canadian magazine known as Coda by writer Clifford Jay Safane. Mr. Safane’s comments about Ramsey are noteworthy: “Ameen was also impressive. He plays interesting lines in a speech-like manner. In addition to a Charlie Parker as well as more contemporary influences, there is a Stravinsky and Bartok feel to his work, giving his solos an engaging sense of order and structure.”
At Studio RivBea, we performed a double bill opposite the Jimmy Lyons Quartet with bassoonist Karen Borca and possibly bassist Hayes Burnett and drummer Syd Smart (the last two I’m not definite about). Because the double bill included Jimmy Lyons, Cecil Taylor showed up to listen to both groups. He took a liking to Ramsey obviously hearing something akin to what writer Safane had heard. The group that Cecil Taylor hired Ramsey to be in was one of his most creative groups, in my humble opinion. The Cecil Taylor Unit that included Jimmy Lyons, Ramsey Ameen, trumpeter Raphe Malik, bassist Sirone and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson recorded One Too Many Salty, Swift and Not Goodbye in June 1978. Ramsey recorded another time with Cecil Taylor in 1980, with a recording called It is in the Brewing Luminous. That unit included bassist Alan Silva as well as drummers Jerome Cooper and Sunny Murray along with Jimmy Lyons and Ramsey in the front line.
Ramsey left my band to perform with Cecil Taylor before I did another double bill (this time) at Ali’s Alley in January of 1978. It was to be a Sunday afternoon concert shared with the Arthur Blythe Quartet. My band was the same as the one at Rivbea with Vincent Chancey replacing Ramsey Ameen. Arthur would probably have been using Steve Reid as his drummer, along with Bob Stewart and Abdul Wadud. The year before, 1977, I had recorded Arthur Blythe’s first recording as a leader called The Grip, on India Navigation Records. I was trying to get my group into Ali’s Alley, the club that was operated and recently opened by drummer Rashid Ali. Arthur Blythe agreed to help me in that endeavor by sharing a double bill. It worked! We had a full house, got a review in the Soho Weekly News by none other than Stanley Crouch, and Rashid Ali booked me for a week at his club in February 1978. For that week-long performance, I used saxophonist Chico Freeman, French hornist Vincent Chancey, vibraphonist Jay Hoggard, cellist Muneer Abdul Fatah, bassist Jerome Hunter, and drummer Rashied Sinan. The concerts were packed every night, and we were reviewed in the New York Times by Robert Palmer. The concert on Friday was recorded, the night Jay Hoggard had another engagement and actually became my first recording as a leader, Abdullah Live at Ali’s Alley (though it was released two years later on Cadence Records). The success of that gig and the gigs the previous year that Ramsey played a part in, was such that it allowed two gentleman Alan Ringel and Larry Shengold to record my actual first recording to be released, Life’s Force. On that recording, I did get to have Jay Hoggard play the vibraphone, although Chico Freeman is not on saxophone. The connection to DiasporaMeets AfroHORNis that the composition Eternal Spiralling Spirit is on Life’sForce and the recent CD. Ramsey Ameen clearly had a hand in helping me to create my first recording as a Leader.
By the time he moved to Hoboken, NJ, we had outgrown the jam sessions and entered another phase of our friendship, the telephone conversations. We shared a love of music, philosophy, numerology, politics, and family, among other things. July 22, the day he left the planet, my cell phone call to him was at 1:12. On the 22nd day at 1:12, which is also 22, we had our last conversation. Sometime later that evening, he left the planet. I was calling him to find out about Joe Rigby, who we had heard, through Facebook, had left the planet. I told Ramsey, in that last conversation, that when I talked to saxophonist Ras Moshe Burnett, I would tell him more. That was not to happen.
Those who study numerology know that 22 is a master number, and Ramsey was an advanced being who had obviously reached the level of mastery for this incarnation. While I’m very sad, we won’t have those extended conversations on this plane again. I will never forget the joy and utter delight of those we shared. One Love, My Friend!