Muhammad*, trumpeter/percussionist, gone from our immediate presence

By Rebecca Hope

(*How he signed his name along with drawing a trumpet and triplet note)

Ameen Muhammad was a musician, who played trumpet, conch shell, and a myriad of percussion instruments.  He was a composer and leader of the Chicago 3-D, and a member of many other improvisational and creative groups.  He was an educator and an active member of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians).  He was the father of one daughter he introduced to me – Amina, and two sons of which one is deceased.  He was a long time friend to many others, and most recently someone I shared special conversations with.  He was such a beautiful soul and I will miss the ability to experience his presence on this side of existence.

The last time I saw Ameen, (oh what potential that has); he was performing with Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons’ Ensemble at Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge in Chicago, Thursday, January 30.  The group was comprised of leader Ernest Dawkins on sax and percussion, Ameen Muhammad on trumpet, conch shell, and percussion, Steve Berry on trombone and percussion, Jeff Parker on guitar, Darius Savage on bass, and Isaiah Spencer on drums.  The incredible music of the first set performance inspired me to take notes and to jot down a few possible yin-yang zin-zang zebrarings to use in the arts and music promotional jazzhope website 

During the interlude between sets, Ameen asked what I was writing.  Being involved with the written word with his educational work in the schools, he was interested especially in the more humorous nature of my words, often related to song lyrics and titles.  I had written some phrases related to the band member’s names, and for Ameen had used the dual meaning of Mean to Me; it’s what you mean to me.  I read aloud, “Ameen, amino; do they call you a mean oh man?” And finished with Mean to me, it’s what you mean to me.  And he smiled and interjected with the chide, “Ameen, as in, I mean what I say.” 

We talked more about his Roots “N” “D” Blues, the jazz opera project he had created and performed “Act I” of November 15 at LaFollette Park.  I said I was interested in seeing additional Acts.  He said to write the City (the sponsors: Chicago Park District / Jazz Institute) and ask to provide additional funding.  Ameen asked me to send him more of my words and ideas to use in his educational programs with the kids. 

Ameen remarked about the hat I was wearing, the one with multitudes of musical jazz instrument pins.  I lifted off my hat to show all the various pins and realized the trumpet pin should be his gift.  (Take note, I do not give away my pins too often, maybe a saxophone to Dewey Redman; a piano to Barney McAll, those that have played music that has set my soul free, only if I had extras of that instrument, and maybe if the musician were wearing a hat the pin would display well on).  At the time, I was wearing an extra silver trumpet on my necklace I had bargained down to $4 while visiting Cancun on a recent Caribbean jazz cruise, was definitely inspired by the musical performance, and Ameen was wearing the perfect head gear.  So, I presented him with the trumpet pin from my hat.  He said, this is just what I need, and pinned it to his hat.        

Ameen was a careful listener and subsequent integrator.  When I first talked with Ameen during the August 6, 2002 live recording of the New Horizon’s Ensemble at the Hothouse, I mentioned seeing the Count Basie Orchestra.  The next set Ameen blew a tiny classical Basie melody.  During our conversation on January 30th, I mentioned I was originally from Detroit and in the last set he called out “Detroit” as one of the “trane” stops.  I have learned to truly appreciate these special touches provided during AACM member performances. 

Musically, the second set performed by New Horizon Ensemble that evening was more outstanding than the first.  Maybe it was the pin.  Maybe it was just the zin-zang of everything.  The band agreed it was a special evening of collaboration.  Who could fathom it would be the last time I saw Ameen.

Somewhere there exists the strength to handle the sudden departure of this talented artist.  As with most adversities I encounter, I will attempt to balance the big questions of “Why”, and “When or where”, through the music and creative legacy Ameen Muhammad’s presence has bestowed.




Notes for this article taken from

Jazzhope website:
Tuesday, August 6, 2002 Review of New Horizon’s Ensemble at the Hothouse, by Rebecca Hope
It was the usual multi-faceted Chicago Tuesday night choices in life. Worked late in the burbs and it was either the 2nd set of 4 total sets in two days at the Hothouse Kahbeer Dawkins live recording or the 2nd set of Tain Watts 13 in six days at the Showcase. Time is relative and a dimension in the warehouse of Jazz. A parking gel in front of the Hothouse and the mathematical market share led me down the Hip-pi-ti-Hop Dawk trail. I will re-tain the tain re-view for a later date. I am rarely disappointed with any one of Chicago's choices, and tonight was no exception. New Horizon Ensemble Members tonight included Ameen Muhammad, Steve Barry, Darius Savage been just as-real, (replacing Yosef Ben-Israel), and Avreeayl Ra.  Oh, and of course the foundation and leader, Ernest Kahbeer Dawkins. As Larry so adequately transmitted cellularly while I was cruizin' the LSD north bound traffic home, "Ernest is so original".  Back to the Kahbeer 2nd set review, the tune Dolphy Dance with Monk...was magical and classic. Previous to this was a hip-hop tune sans the poet; I thought it could be indexed as hip-it-ti-pi-hop down the seren-dip-it-ti-pi-'trane trail. Then, after the first take, "In Walked Khari B". (Six marvelously mesmerizing musicians were on stage as originally estimated). I HOPE both versions make the CD would be interesting to listen to the before and after experience, one more time. P.S. Thx Ameen for handling the hose whip apparatus and that Basie phrase, along with the myriad of other sounds and trumpeting. Thx to the entire ensemble for the molecular delightenment.
Aside zebraring note. I am puzzled with the description of this band in available coverage as being "3rd" generation, but forgot to ask. Khari B is AACM Mwata Bowden's son - isn't that 2nd generation of an original? At first scan, I would estimate an average of 2, (2nd) generation but may not be aware of a hidden historical layer. But wait, if you ever watched the movie about the mathematical formula at you would have the additional equation of: 1 + 1 = 3. Don't even get me started on the formula of PI in Hip-PI-ti-Hop. Let's see the formula of a Sphere is 4 PI - r - cubed. And Monk's middle name is Sphere.

Hope’s Laws of Motion, the First:  For every adversity in life, there is an equal and opposite and sometimes enhanced pleasure
Hope’s Laws of Motion, the Second: What goes ‘round, comes ‘round. 

Friday, November 15, 2002 Review of Roots “N” “D” Blues, a jazz opera by Ameen Muhammad, 7PM at LaFollette Park, 1333 N. Laramie, by Rebecca Hope.
Roots"N" "D" Blues a jazz opera by Ameen Muhammad, and starring some of our favorites...featuring Oscar Brown, Jr., Maggie Brown,
Dee Alexander, Tanya Reid, Joan Crawford, Evod Magek, Amina Muhammed, Ari Brown, Edwin Daugherty, Ernest Khabeer Dawkins, Ed Wilkerson, Douglas Ewart, Marvin Davis, David Young, Robert Griffin, Isaiah Jackson, Yosef Ben Israel, Vincent Davis, Byron Bowie, Maia and Muntu Dance Company.  The Admission was FREE, and sponsored by Chicago Park District and Jazz Institute.  Act I was an interesting opera gala with costumes complete with vibes and dancing. If you enjoyed this, let the city and the Jazz Institute know - there could be Act II and III!  Please call 312-427-1676 for more information.


AACM site:

Ameen Muhammad: Musician, Composer, Educator Instruments: Trumpet, Percussion, Small Instruments.  A highly regarded trumpet player on the "new music" scene who has also been deeply involved in the development of numerous arts-in-education programs and artistic residencies including HIP TRIP for Chicago Public Schools and Urban Gateways' Arts For Learning Residency. Ameen has toured with his 'Griot Band' to elementary schools and served an artistic residency for the Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA) Lighted Schoolhouse Program. He has recorded and/or performed with Anthony Braxton, Edward Wilkerson, Malachi Favors, Douglas Ewart, Steve McCall, Don Moye, and many others. He is also an active member of the AACM.

Trumpeter Ameen Muhammad himself grew up in a family, which valued both Black traditions and Black Music. His grandparents told him that Black people were Africans who were forcibly enslaved and taken overseas; emphasizing the Black roots lay in Africa. At home, he listened to the full gamut of music, which comprise Great Black Music. These initial exposures eventually inspired him to study at the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) School of Music, which has trained many of Chicago's finest musicians. Mr. Muhammad's performances include appearances on albums, CDs and films, featuring noted ensembles such as New Horizons Ensemble, Shadow Vignettes. Ameen Muhammad also founded and directs his own ensemble, Ameen Muhammad and Chicago 3D. Mr. Muhammad has toured the USA, Europe and Japan performing in concert, workshops and music festivals. Mr. Muhammad is also an Afro-centric educator. He has developed and presents The Hip Trip, African-American history through the forays of Great Black Music. The Hip Trip has been presented to over 10,000 children and 3,000 parents throughout the greater Illinois area.

Information from

Ameen Muhammad: Trumpeter, band leader and award-winning composer Ameen Muhammad is probably best-known for his work with Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble, but he also has his own quintet --Chicago 3-D -- which played at the 1997 Chicago Jazz Festival and has been the Vice Chairman of the seminal AACM from 1983 to the present. He has also played in the Kahil El' Zabar Infinity Orchestra.  He was also the recipient of a "Meet the Composer New Residencies" grant (1995-1998) where he was able to take the music of his Chicago 3-D to schools and community centers across the Southside and all of Chicago: "I liken my role to that of the African Griot, whose function is to impart information on the ethnic heritage, promote ethnic traditions, and inspire cultural and intellectual awareness via the oral tradition; relating stories orally transmitted through generations and the vehicle of Great Black Music." In addition to his educational and live performance work, Muhammad has also appeared on a number of recordings including: Chicago Now: 30 Years of Great Black Music (Silkheart Records 1996), Southside Street Songs (Silkheart Records, 1993, 1995), After the Dawn has Risen (Open Mind Records 1992), and Birth of a Notion (King Records 1990).
Chicago 3-D: Trumpeter Ameen Muhammad's quintet explores the African roots of jazz. Other members include saxophonist Ari Brown, bassist Yosef Ben Israel, drummer Dushun Mosley, and vocalist/all around musician Maia. The band played at the 1997 Chicago Jazz Festival.
New Horizons Ensemble: Since it’s founding in 1979, New Horizons has been both critically and popularly acclaimed, as both musicians and educators -- teaching people about Jazz. Led by saxophonist Ernest Dawkins, the group includes many members of the third generation of the famous Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), trumpeter Ameen Muhammad, trombonist Steve Berry, bassist Yosef Ben Israel, guitarist Jeff Parker (also in post-rock band Tortoise), and drummer Avyeeral Rah.  The group mixes avant-garde jazz with some of the older elements of traditional swing. Says the Chicago Tribune, "... There may be no form of jazz left untouched by this adventurous, high-flying ensemble." Their Howard Reich says, "This band can enlighten an audience while enthralling it." The Trib also calls the bands' 1993 recording South Side Street Songs (Silkheart Records) "...a celebratory, life-affirming work...a profound addition to the avant-garde repertory..." They recently released their recording at the Velvet Lounge, Mother's Blue Velvet Shoes (on Dawkins' Dawk label), the group's first live album since their debut 6 years ago. Other recordings include Chicago Now (1994; also on Silkheart), and After the Dawn Has Risen...New Horizon Ensemble Live in Leverkusen (Open Mind/Sound Aspects Records).
Shadow Vignettes: 27-member big band led by reedman Ed Wilkerson has only performed in Chicago a few times in the last decade. It's membership (basically the stellar folks you'd get if you turned the AACM upside down and shook it) includes Robert Griffin and Ameen Muhammad on trumpet, Steve Berry and Isaiah "Ike" Jackson on trombone, Mwata Bowden, Ernest Dawkins, Ari Brown and Vandy Harris on saxophone, Harrison Bankhead and Yosef Ben Israel on bass, percussionists Reggie Nicholson and Dushun Mosley, cellist Naomi Millender and vocalist. Anyway, Ed Wilkerson's a fantastic writer, and this is a great big band, that walks the big band border somewhere between Ellington and experimental.  They were among the headliners at the 1998 Chicago Jazz Festival, joined by special guests (and Chicago saxophone legends) Fred Anderson and Von Freeman.

Chicago Tribune | Howard Reich  - ... It may take years for Chicagoan Ameen Muhammad to get his folk opera "Roots 'N' 'D' Blues" fully staged. OUR CRITICS' CHOICES November 17, 2002. ...

Between the musical numbers, which veer from straightforward folk blues to avant-garde improvisation, Brown and [Muhammad] take turns reading aloud the libretto (which Muhammad calls a "Negretto"). Essentially, this text revisits key portions of Genesis from the Bible, but in a richly urban, floridly poetic vernacular. Since most are familiar with passages such as "In the beginning," Muhammad's black-culture version proves at ...