100 Jazz Profiles
1934 - present
South African pianist and composer. Born Adolph Johannes Brand, Ibrahim began his career in his home country, playing in a big swing band, forming his own trio, and then recording in a modern jazz sextet called the Jazz Epistles. This music was released in 1961, but soon afterwards, the political situation in South Africa led to the break up of the band, and Ibrahim (under the name Dollar Brand) moved to Switzerland, playing in a trio and accompanying the singer Sathima Bea Benjamin, whom he later married.
Duke Ellington heard the group, arranged for it to record, and later brought Ibrahim to the United States, where he appeared at the Newport festival, toured with Elvin Jones and led his own groups. Gradually, Ibrahim's distinctive style began to emerge - music that recalled the sounds of South Africa, and mixed his country's vocal and harmonic traditions with the rhythmic feeling and improvisation of jazz.
In the late 1960s, he spent time in South Africa, Europe and the United States, but from 1977 until the end of Apartheid, he was mainly based in New York. Since 1990 he has split his time between South Africa and New York. From 1983 he has led a group called Ekaya (which means 'home') as well as various trios, occasional big bands and many special projects.
Central to his music is the idea that his compositions can be learned by ear - he seldom uses written scores - and that his pieces build from simple beginnings to huge and exciting sounds. He also continues to play solo piano, using techniques from all areas of piano history from the boogie woogie that first inspired him to play jazz to the more modern sounds of his mentor Ellington and a player he greatly admired, Thelonious Monk.
Ed Hazell: 'Abdullah Ibrahim' in Barry Kernfeld (ed): The New Grove Dicitonary of Jazz (2nd ed) London 2001.
Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya: The Mountain (Camden CDN 1002)
Suggested track: Ekaya
Abdullah Ibrahim at Enja Records
Biography, photos and extensive recording information
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