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Why So Many Jazz Musicians Converted to a Heretical Form of Islam

Blakey’s celebrated Jazz Messengers originally evolved out of a mostly-Muslim big band named the Seventeen Messengers, with the word “messenger” itself having a Muslim resonance: Muhammad the messenger of Allah, the musicians as messengers of Islam.

Some of the greatest musicians of the mid-twentieth century passed through the Jazz Messengers, including Johnny Griffin, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, and many others. But had they booked a tour to play before Abdullah Ibn Buhaina’s Ahmadi brethren, they might have been surprised at how they were received.

This would not be because Blakey and the Jazz Messengers didn’t deliver the goods. They did. No doubt many, many Pakistanis and Indonesians dig bop, and when it comes to the Messengers, there is plenty to dig. Songs like “Moanin’,” “Lester Left Town” and the Jazz Messengers’ take on “A Night in Tunisia” practically define hard bop of the late Fifties and early Sixties; Blakey himself practically invented hard bop drumming.