Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – At the foot of the Cheops [Khufu] pyramid in Giza, Egypt in 2007, I ran into a young man wearing a T-shirt stamped with the picture of a familiar American musician. I approached him and asked if he knew the man on the T-shirt because there was no written name on it. “Of course I printed it myself,” he said. “It’s Omar Hakim, the best American drummer. He’s my hero.” The young Egyptian turned out to be a drummer with a startup band in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. “I first learned about Omar Hakim from a jazz fan club in Alexandria where we listened to Jazz Club USA on the Voice of America in 1996,” the young Egyptian drummer recalled. He was in Cairo to perform at Al-Azhar Park.
Here’s a clip from an old show about the Weather Report and I mentioned Omar Hakim at 1:08. In fact, the drum-legend was mentioned on several of my old Jazz Club USA shows in the 1990s. Many of our listeners sent feedback asking about Hakim. The station ID on that VOA show was done earlier by jazz great Louis Armstrong.
“The idea of We Are One is just to speak about the spiritual oneness of all people, and to connect with the source of music and life and positive energy,” said the versatile and hi-tech drummer who was kind enough to speak with Jazz Beat about his new projects.
Hakim has played the hi-tech V-drums for International Pop Superstar Madonna. In fact he toured with her and with Lionel Richie for eight years in the 1990s. He also played drums for David Bowie and Sting and has collaborated with other renowned artists including Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Anita Baker, Bobby McFerrin, George Benson, Chaka Khan, John Scofield, Urban Knight‘s, Bruce Springsteen, Jewel, J-Lo, and D‘Angelo.
Hakim was born in the Big Apple (New York City) in 1959, and grew up listening to famed jazz musicians of the time. His father played trombone for Duke Ellington and Count Basie. “ My father, a trombonist named Hasan, used to play records around the house all the time when I was young by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, by Miles Davis, the Buddy Rich Big Band,” said Hakim who was a founding member of the Jazz Super Band Urban Knights along with Ramsey Lewis, Grover Washington Jr. and bassist Victor Bailey. The band featured Hakim’s songwriting and vocal talents.
His first encounter with an audience was in 1969 when he was 10 years old. His father wanted him to play in his band, the Nomads. Young Omar Hakim was shy but his father encouraged him. “He recognized my talents but I was very shy. He put me into that band and he was like … you can do it, you are the new drummer in the band, let’s go” he recalled. “It was a pretty amazing experience for me.”
Thanks to his father’s friendship with the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, young Hakim had a chance to spend time with jazz greats like, drummers Elvin Jones and Art Blakey. At the age of 15, Hakim did his first tour after he formulated his improvisational drumming techniques.
The Trio of OZ (O for Omar, Z for pianist Rachel Z)
Omar Hakim is married to the brilliant, post-modern jazz pianist Rachel Z who worked for award-winning jazz vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. She also played piano for some of the best artists in the music industry, including the British rock star Peter Gabriel whose song “Games without Frontiers” was a hit single in the UK and the USA in 1980. It was an iconic part of my college years, and number one on Radio Cairo chart in Egypt in 1980 and 1981.
Hakim and Rachel Z teamed up to form a new group called The Trio of OZ a few years after they met in a session with the famous jazz guitarist AL De Meola. “I’m very excited about it,” said Hakim whose famous solo album Rhythm Deep — a fusion of jazz, R&B, and pop– earned him his first Grammy nomination in 1989. In 2000, he released another solo record titled Groovesmith, featuring his songwriting, arranging, singing and hi-tech drumming skills
His new group, The Trio of OZ, released its first album last year featuring Hakim on drums, Rachel Z on Piano and Maeve Royce on bass. The group was joined at live shows by the new bassist Solomon Dorsey who’s been touring with the band lately. They are now working on a new album to be released later this year.