One of the least researched and nearly forgotten master arrangers of the 1950s is Ahmad Khatab Salim—better known as A.K. Salim. He had a muscular, powerhouse orchestral style akin to Ernie Wilkins, but with less of a determined build and more instrumental complexity. Salim also had one of the finest Latin-jazz pens, scoring some of the most interesting charts of the late 1950s, such as Kenya, Machito's great album of 1957, and tracks for Herman's Heat & Puente's Beat in 1958. A Salim chart required the very best musicians in town and always produced thrills for the listener.
In addition to all of the freelance arranging work Salim took on, he also scored and conducted four albums as a leader—Flute Suite, Pretty for the People, Afro Soul Drum Orgy and Blues Suite. The latter was recorded in October 1958 with Nat Adderley (cnt), Joe Wilder and Paul Cohen (tp), Buster Cooper (tb), Phil Woods (as), Seldon Powell (ts,fl), Sahib Shihab (bar), Oscar Dennard (p), George Duvivier (b), Granville Hogan (d) and A.K. Salim (arr,dir). Each track has a blue hue but is a beguiling construction of swinging motifs with crisp solos and dense instrumental interplay.
Salim was born in Chicago in 1922. He studied alto saxophone and clarinet, playing in territory bands in the early 1940s until 1943, when a jaw injury forced him give up playing. He turned to arranging instead. But Salim was more than a great arranger. As evidenced by the precise nature of his recordings, he clearly was an excellent manager of musicians and gifted conductor. He had a knack for choosing just the right musicians for dates and rehearsing them expertly. Little else is known about Salim, I'm afraid, or when he died.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find A.K. Salim's Blues Suite on The Modern Sounds of A.K. Salim: The Complete Savoy Recordings (Fresh Sound) here. The two-CD set includes Flute Suite (complete), tracks from Stablemates and Jazz Is Busting Out All Over, and the complete Pretty for the People and Blues Suite albums.
JazzWax clip: This will give you a sense of Blues Suite.Keep in mind, the fidelity on the CD set is far superior...