Ali 1939 - 2007.
Luqman Ali: artistic bio by Dave Hotep
arrival: November 16, 1939
Starksville, Miss. [60 miles NNE of Philadelphia; a minute east of M.S.U.]
Luqman Ali is a paradigm -- an historic archetype -- the quintessential traveling musician: born in one place at one moment, but, from the start of his professional career, finding home to be at many places over many years, all over the globe; trained from youth in the Black music of Gospel, the Blues, early Rhythm & Blues, and Jazz, during the legendary classic eras of the 1950s and 60s; skills sharpened by the hard work of years traveling through the smokey forgotten clubs, bars, and restaurants of the chitlin circuits, and in the concert halls of eminent spectacle, alongside the most famous of performing stars. Coincidence is non-existent; the time and place of his arrival here is fundamental to his path, his notable associations, and his struggle for balance between music, family, and religious responsibility.
Born as Edward Skinner, from a large family of aunts and uncles and cousins; he was raised by his mother's parents, in a church oriented family that included several church ministry musicians.
First musical performing experience was at 7 yrs old, as a vocalist with a spiritual quartet that performed locally in the style of the Soul Stirrers.
At 9 yrs. old he was moved to Memphis Tenn. with his grandparents, who had been given a house by one of his uncles. [That uncle was 'colored people rich' -- owning a few stores and other real estate that was at the core of Black economic life in that section of the city. In the country life of Miss. the family owned 77 acres of land, fruit trees, fishin holes, horses and other animals; in Tenn. city life, all he got was a front yard.]
By 7th grade he aspired to play saxophone in the school band, but couldn't immediately afford the instrument. Fortunately, he was able to buy a used drum book, sticks and practice pad from a classmate who had decided that she didn't like playing the drums. By the following school year he made the band. In Jr. High and at Douglas High School he played 2 yrs of junior band and 4 yrs of senior band, with both the marching and concert ensembles. It was during this time that he spent most of his free time fanatically woodshedding.
During 9 & 10th grade, he and other classmates [including Jimmy Reed (tpt), Alan Jones (p), George Hudson (tpt)] formed an ensemble that played a weekly gig at Mitchell's Hotel -- in the same room that almost set B.B.King 's Lucille on fire. [In fact, B.B. sat in with the band on occasion, before he became nationally notable.] Through 10/11th grade the combo would become the house rhythm section for visiting professional musicians.
During this time he was greatly influenced by a drummer named William C Tyres, who held the 1st drum chair at his school, and whose style reminds him now of Jo Jones and Gene Krupa. He remarks that Joe Dukes (another local drummer who would later become associated with Jack McDuff and M.L.K. Jr. saxophonist Ben Branch) "was the greatest drummer I ever heard". He also admired and learned from the works of Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, and James Moody.
After graduation, the band was able to get some road work, augmented with Danny Carmichael (a former Little Richard "house rockin’ sax player). During these travels, they became road buddies with the Five Royals. Through this association they were able to forge a relationship with Universal Attractions. U.A. was the largest entertainment agency representing Black music at that time, and booked the most successful R&B bands of the day, including James Brown, The Midnighters, Jackie Wilson, Same Cooke, and others. So, in the late 1950s, he began traveling and performing in the road bands of these artists. Although he was now performing in the pinnacle of the R&B circuit, he was a known 'jazz head', and was left somewhat dissatisfied with the music of that artistic scene.
By 1959 he was in Los Angeles, California, playing in the Brass Rail Burlesque Club's house band -- a 7-nights-a-week gig that lasted over a year. This grueling gig provided background music for (and between) exotic dancers and comedians such as Redd Foxx, Sloppy Daniels, and LaWanda Page. It was during this time that he first came into contact with the Nation Of Islam, which would later transform his spiritual philosophy. What helped transform his mind from settling in California was one of its' earthquakes.
In 1960/61 he was on the move again; found himself in Chicago. Here, George Hudson, his best friend from gradeschool, had been settled for nearly a year, engrossed in music school. George had also recently begun working with Sun Ra and his Arkestra. This is how Edward Skinner was first introduced to Sun Ra. He was intrigued by both Ra and the sound of his band, and immediately started sitting in with them during their tenure at the Wonder Inn, where Sun Ra was rehearsing and performing 5 days a week. Not so different from the strenuous work he had just left in California -- they would both rehearse and perform Sunday thru Thursday; Jack Dejohnette's band played the Friday/Saturday slot.
Not one to settle in one place for long, he soon found himself back "home" in Memphis, Tenn. He was living and performing at the Trumpet Inn, with a house band that included a young, unknown Isaac Hayes.
By 1964 he had become fully immersed in the doctrines of the Nation Of Islam, and was transformed from Edward Skinner to Luqman Ali. He was brought to Springfield, Ill. as a part of the core cadre tasked to build the first NOI Temple established in that city. This was literally a brick-by-brick endeavor that not only required him to construct the building and build the congregation, but also engage in coalmining to augment the building fund. By this time he was a man called to religious duty, with a wife and children soon to be. Music became a past-life ambition that was forgotten for almost 15 years.
In 1976, he and his family spent half a year in North Africa, intending to emigrate there, but unfortunate circumstances forced them to return to the U.S. A new phase of musical energy and education was soon sparked for him. In 1977 he was living in New York City and performing again -- making gigs and recordings with Sun Ra. He also began private studies with a NYC drum teacher whom he had found via Downbeat magazine.
In the mid 1980s, after moving again to Ill., he enrolled full-time in the music program at Southern University at Evansville where he took the required classes in multi-instrumental performance and music theory. There, many of his "teachers" acknowledged him as an already accomplished and notable musician -- by now securely associated with the recordings of Sun Ra.
In the late 1980s, he moved to a private residence in Philadelphia, Pa. He was again functioning as a member of Sun Ra's Arkestra. For a few years he briefly returned to Islamic practice as a member of NOI – until 1995, when he became a permanent resident at the House of Ra. Presently, from there, he continues to rehearse, record, and tour as a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen.
It is no mere coincidence that Luqman Ali has had much of his adult life tied to the orbits of Elijah Muhammad and Sun Ra. For him there is much similarity in the revolutionary cosmological philosophy of these two spirits who were, at a common moment, both religious and artistic oracles in the city parks of Chicago, and represented ascendancy in Black thought that was at the vanguard of the growing struggles for democratic rights and Afrocentric self-sufficiency. Both spirits residing at the focal point of a community that was at the threshold of an artistic explosion that might have rivaled NYC's more famous Harlem Renaissance. No: this is not coincidence; this is myth-science.