Obituary—Hakim Jami

Bassist, tuba and euphonium player, improvisator, composer, bandleader, and performance space owner Hakim Jami left us on December 19, 2021, in Kingston, New York, where he was living in an artist co-op, the Lace Mill, close to his old friend, percussionist Juma Sultan. They last played a concert there in October.

Jami grew up in Detroit; he played percussion and tuba at Cass Tech and then in the Navy, where Robert Friday, from the same high school, taught him bass. He left the Navy while stationed in Boston, stayed there, and ran a late-night jazz club for a couple of years, eventually making it to New York, where he and his wife took over and ran an East Village loft performance space named Ladies Fort, one of the four iconic places of the 1970’s “loft jazz” scene, close to the ones operated by Sam Rivers, James Dubois/Juma Sultan, and Rashid Ali. Jami worked and recorded with numerous musicians during this time, appearing, playing euphonium, on Archie Shepp’s famed Attica Blues (1971), but also as a bassist with musicians such as Hilton Ruiz and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre. He is heard to good advantage on their trio recordings, New York Hilton (1977) and Chasing the Sun (1978), where Jami’s strong, big-toned bass sound can be distinctly heard. Among his other contributions to recordings from this period one can mention Sun Ra’s What Planet is This? (1973) and Kalaparusha’s Kwanza (1977). He worked in many different bands, including Manifestation, with an old Detroit friend, saxophonist Phil Lasley.

After moving back to Detroit, Jami ran his own space and played various kinds of music, in clubs and busking on the streets. When artists Mildred Thibodeaux opened the Detroit Art Space in late 2001, for six months Jami was featured on weekends with his Street Band that included musicians such as saxophonists Faruq Z Bey and Skeeter Shelton, or percussionists Roy Brooks and Ajaramu Shelton. Strongly committed to self-reliance, he released two records of the Street Band on his own Reparation Records label, followed by a third by his Revelation Ensemble with his old friend guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, Skeeter Shelton, and drummer Sean Dobbins.

In the years since, Jami moved back and forth between New York and Detroit, leaving his mark, most recently, in the form of recordings as different as Anthony Braxton’s Composition 19 (For 100 Tubas) in 2003 and Salim Washington’s Strings (2007).

Jami belonged to the great club of Detroit bassists, along with fellow Cass Tech alumnae Doug Watkins, Paul Chambers, Robert Friday, Ron Carter, and Jaribu Shahid, but also excelled on tuba/euphonium, left behind several important compositions, as well as a record of action on behalf of African American artists, creating spaces for self-expression, and fighting for equal rights, social justice, and artistic freedom.