Revered tenor saxophonist, musician, historian and jazz educator Hassan Abdullah died early Wednesday morning, Nov. 23.
ATLANTIC CITY — Early Wednesday morning, Nov. 23, Atlantic City's revered musician, music historian and educator Hassan Abdullah died at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City.
According to his friend Sandy Warren, the cause of death was cardiac arrest.
Stanley Barber (Abdullah's birth name) wasn't born in Atlantic City, but moved to the city in 1954 as a young child with his family from Virginia, where he was born, in Norfolk.
Known by his Muslim name — Hassan Abdullah — he was loved by many in the Atlantic City community and beyond, and performed regularly in the area with various groups including his own Hassan Abdullah Sextet that featured Angela Burton as vocalist.
Abdullah also played with the group Motown Groove, which played the sounds of Motown. (Burton was the "Diana Ross" among the vocalists that also included Marti Brown, Althea “Savern” Martin and D. Sutton, providing the harmonies of the Supremes. The group also featured three male vocalists.)
Along with playing with his own Sextet, as well as smaller versions of his admired jazz band, Abdullah also had a role with the group Angela Burton and Passion. While serving as the group's musical director, he also played keyboards and saxophone. He was also the producer on the group's various recording projects.
Abdullah's most recent performance with Angela Burton and Passion was on Aug. 13, 2011 at the Rebirth of Kentucky Avenue Renaissance Festival in Atlantic City.
"That day Hassan expressed to me that he was proud of the fact that I was still alive being that I was one of the female vocalists to have performed at the renowned [and former] Club Harlem," Burton tells Atlantic City Weekly. (See photos from that event by clicking here.)
Abdullah performed several times in the weeks before his death. On Nov. 5, he played a gig at Bogart's Bookstore in Millville. Warren says he loved the venue and that he was an avid reader, writer and "lover of all things literary."
His last major public performance, however, was an appearance on Nov. 10 with the R&B group Judah Dorrington and Paradise. The group was performing at the Mays Landing Country Club for the Art Dorrington Ice Hockey Foundation’s 14th Annual Installation and Awards Dinner.
"He also did a few smaller gigs," in November, according to Burton.
"Although he is known as a jazz musician and historian, Hassan loved classical music as well," writes Atlantic City's Hassan Abdur-Raheem, a fellow musician and friend of Abdullah's.
"Whenever we were together or on the phone all we talked about was Islam and music. He recently told me that someday he wanted to compose for classical piano and do a CD."
Burton says that Abdullah was indeed in the "planning stages" of composing for and producing a classical piano album.
"Hassan and I have had a long-standing platonic relationship for more than 30 years," adds Burton.
"[With] the last 20-plus years sharing a house with other musicians and friends."
Abdullah, who just celebrated his 59th birthday on Nov. 17, was at home with Burton late Tuesday night, Nov. 22, and into early Wednesday morning, preparing for Thanksgiving. Around 3am Abdullah said he felt a shortness of breath and soon after passed out.
Burton called 911 and Abdullah was taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City.
Warren says that she received a call from Burton and arrived at the hospital around 4:15am. Warren says she figured she'd find Abdullah in his hospital bed, and would try to cheer him up.
Upon entering his hospital room, however, Warren says that the doctors told her and Burton that Abdullah had died of cardiac arrest.
"He had no known history of heart or breathing problems," says Warren.
"This is a big shock for everybody."
BELOW: Video of the late saxophonist Hassan Abdullah playing John Coltrane's "Blue Train" with Joe Breidenstine's band:
Along with sharing musical experiences for more than 30 years together, Abdullah and Burton performed together on U.S.O. tours overseas during the 1990s for the United States Department of Defense.
"His first love was that of the saxophone and he was a genius on the horn," says Burton. "He was well known as a jazz musician, both performing and as a historian. What most people do not know is that Hassan was an accomplished classical musician. This included playing the piano and composing. Other instruments on which he was adept at were the flute, guitar and harmonica.
"Besides performing, he was a teacher in many areas of music," adds Burton. "He loved imparting his knowledge to children, but many adults came to him for instruction too. He taught and gave lessons at Stockton College working with Tony Deluca."
Soon after word of Abdullah's death spread around the community on the morning of Nov. 23, friends and family members, including Abdullah's daughter Tamika Bullock, were working together to make funeral arrangements.
In one of more than 40 comments left at ACWeekly.com, on Thanksgiving Bullock wrote:
“I am sure that my father is beaming with joy at all of the kind words of respect and favor you have offered. He was a great man and an amazing musician. I look forward to meeting those who have graced his life with their talents."
About 150 people attended the funeral ceremony for Abdullah, including Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford, which was held on Saturday, Nov. 26, at the Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City.
A memorial concert was held on Sunday, Nov. 27, from 3-7pm at Wash's Inn in Pleasantville, with many musicians and friends showing up to pay their respects to the "gentleman of jazz."
The late tenor saxophonist's own music was sophisticated and centered around the be-bop era of jazz. His primary influences were Sonny Stitt and Hank Mobley and he enjoyed digging into their music and performing their songs. One of his compositions is called "Blues for Stitt."
This past September, Abdullah participated in a birthday celebration of the late Atlantic City jazz icon and former Club Harlem house band drummer
Burton also sang at the gig, in celebration of what would have been Columbo's 109th birthday. It was a special concert on many levels, including the fact that the late Chris Columbo was Burton's godfather. (Click here for photos)
Abdullah lived in New York City for a stint before returning to Atlantic City, where he worked for 16 years as a security guard at the city's hospital, now called AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.
"When I walked in at 4:15 [Wednesday] morning," says Warren, "the security guards knew who I was there to see. So many staff from the hospital came in to see him. They were so loving and treated him with such dignity."
Warren only first met Abdullah this past February, during a Jazz Corner event at the Chelsea, but the two hit it off, according to Warren.
"I was doing a book signing at the event," says Warren, "and Hassan's band was playing. From that moment on we were always at each other's gigs and did our gigs together pretty much."
Warren would soon take on booking some shows for Abdullah and doing some PR work for his music.
"I've lost one of the best friends I've ever had," Warren says.
Musicians from Cape May up to Atlantic City and Philadelphia had a supreme respect for the late jazz musician. He played with an assortment of local musicians, including trumpet player Joe Breidenstine, bassist Tim Lekan and many others.
"He was adored by other musicians and everybody who played with him was kicked up a notch and vice versa, because he only played with the best musicians," says Warren. "He was a perfectionist and a professional and he so sincerely loved the music and the musicians."
Warren says photos were recently taken of Abdullah for his press kit. She says he was also about to re-enter the recording studio.
"He did some recordings, but he was such a perfectionist that he was never satisfied with them," says Warren. "He wouldn't even let me use them as demos to get gigs. He was, however, just about to go back into the studio and take another crack at it."
Warren adds that the Somers Point Jazz Society is planning a memorial concert to honor Abdullah's gifts to music and the region as well as his legacy and spirit.
"The music was Hassan and Hassan was the music," says Warren. "He put his music first and he was such a perfectionist. It was such an honor for musicians to play with him. Music was not a hobby for Hassan; it was his life. He was a professional."
Abdullah, a noted jazz historian, who did several programs in conjunction with the Atlantic City Free Public Library as well as the Ocean City Public Library over the years, was also working on two books before he died.
"Hassan’s knowledge and expertise went well beyond music," says Burton. "He was currently writing two books. One was about capitalism and what his research was pointing out as its inevitable demise, and another about time travel."
Burton, who says that Abdullah was "more like a brother and not simply a friend," adds: "He [also] spoke seven languages fluently that included German and Arabic which, unlike many languages that we are familiar with, uses totally different letters and is written and read from right to left. These are some of his many talents. His biggest gift to Atlantic City and the world is that he was kind, concerned, and helpful to all who knew him."
That last remark is illustrated by the many comments that his friends and loved ones have been leaving on the online version of this story at acweekly.com, including this one left by Willie Dawson on Thanksgiving Day:
“Besides having had the privilege of performing and writing with Hassan during [mid-1980s] Stockton days, I was also on the night shift at A.C. Medical Center while he was the guard. The same beautiful spirit and courteous style we enjoyed from his music was evident in the kindness he showed frightened, injured people looking for help on a bad night. If you had trouble, Hassan was the man you wanted.”
ABOVE: The Jazz Corner series at The Chelsea in Atlantic City on Feb. 16, 2011, when the late Hassan Abdullah (back center with sax) and his band played for a special Black History Month program.
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