Jamaaladeen Tacuma name Philadelphia Jazz Hero by Jazz Journalist Association of America

“It’s the rarest of musicians who fulfill their potential while remaining in their hometowns. But Jamaaladeen Tacuma is an exemplar for how to turn what could be a liability — rootedness — into success. How he’s done it: First, there’s the world class musicianship of a bassist who at age 19 joined Ornette Coleman’s challenging, electrically charged groups and stayed with them for 11 years…” - By John Szwed

Tacuma, who in high school had loved to go the Uptown Theater to see the touring R&B stars like James Brown, Motown artists and the Philly Sound as well as Latin dance band music, went on to perform with the wide-ranging likes of explorers, avant-gardists and abstractionists John Zorn, Derek Bailey, Nels Cline and the Sun Ra Arkestra as well as popsters/rockers The Roots, Ray Parker Jr., Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana and Nona Hendryx, Australian children's band The Wiggles, and to appear on Saturday Night Live, the Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Yet all the while Philadelphia has been his home, where he formed his own record company Jam All Productions, started an appointment-only style salon The Redd Carpet Room, with his wife raised a large family, produced festivals and concerts, offered unstinting help to local musicians and groups and developed master classes such as “Music and the Human Experience” to share the information he’s gathered during a period in which the music business has undergone radical changes.

In 2015 Jamaaladeen conceived and produced the Outsiders Improvised & Creative Music Festival, which has become an annual schedule bringing to Philadelphia an extraordinary array of musicians who would not likely be seen here otherwise, while also highlighting a circle of comparably adventurous hometown players. When live performances became impossible in 2020, he turned the sixth Outsiders Fest into a online video series called the “Clean Sweep Sessions,” as he described them, “continuing [the Fest’s] mission of showcasing diverse styles of risk-taking, progressive music and groundbreaking artists during the Covid 19 Pandemic.”

He has always been a busy man, and now in his sixth decade has accelerated his activities just when most everything else has slowed to a crawl. Some highlights: he produced and scored much of the The Last Poets’ prophetic 2019 recording Transcending Toxic Times; organized The Inauguration Wrecking Ball, a 2017 gathering of musicians, poets and speakers here where democracy was born to offer “inspiration towards peaceful positive action in the face of anxiety, fear and frustration,” and most recently created a musical “Tribute to the Philly Rhythm Kings,“ the unsung rhythm section behind the 1960s’-’70s’ Philadelphia Sound of soul music.

It should be noted that Tacuma is a person of faith, having converted to Islam after having worked with Ornette Coleman for six months in Paris. Unsure at that time if he could reconcile conflicts he perceived between very strict Muslim observance and music, he quit music for a year, returning to it only after Coleman visited the bassist at his mosque and urged him to use his God-given gift to to spread peace and love, and provide for his family -- that music could be a source of good. Ever since, Jamaaladeen has made sure his creative messages are positive, in line with his core values. He views Islam as a way of life more so than a religion, a path that’s brought him closer to the creator of all things -- Allah.

He further believes that a balance of spiritual life and music business has helped sustain him as a working musician, kept him focused on family and community, and fueled his creativity. He pays back: in the late 1970s performing for events, celebrations and fundraisers at the first Islamic Community Center of Philadelphia (first accredited Islamic school here), and with Khadijah Alderman’s Funeral Home, the first Islamic burial service in the city. In 2020 he also produced a first-ever “Virtual Eid Celebration Concert,” a two-hour event for the mosque Masjidullah, helping Philadelphian Muslims adapt and connect during the lockdown on gatherings.

Jamaaladeen has garnered many citations, including the Hungarian Parallel Culture Award, the Marcus Garvey Foundation 50th Anniversary Award, The Pew Fellowship in the Arts, The Uptown Theater Hall of Fame Award and Gerald Veasely's Bass Boot Camp "Living the Dream” Award. He’s had residency fellowships at The MacDowell Colon, Headlands Center for the Arts, and Civitella Ranieri. Unlike many prophets, he’s been honored by his hometown: In 2017 and 2018 he was awarded The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz Best Bassist Award, and in 2018 he received the City of Philadelphia's Benny Golson Award, which comprises the Liberty Bell Award -- one of the highest honors from the City. On receiving the Golson, Tacuma said, with characteristic generosity, “I feel it’s not only an award for myself, but also everybody who ever went into a studio with me, or a concert, or had anything to do with my success.”

The Jazz Journalist Associate is pleased to recognize Jamaaladeen Tacuma as a powerful, positive presence in the arts, the 2021 Philadelphia Jazz Hero