Early bebop trumpeter dies at 78
By CRAIG BASSE, Times Obituaries Editor
ST. PETERSBURG -- Idrees Sulieman, a bebop trumpeter who jammed with the biggest names in jazz and carved out a career with European big bands, has died at 78.
Mr. Sulieman, a St. Petersburg native who returned to his home town about a decade ago, died Thursday (July 25, 2002) at St. Anthony's Hospital. The cause was prostate cancer, said his daughter, Althea Andrews-Brittle of Boston.
Born Leonard Graham, he grew up listening to jazz masters on the family radio with his father, Leroy, a saxophonist. The father wanted a musical career for his son and eagerly paid for piano lessons.
But Leonard wanted to play sax like his dad. When he finally persuaded his father to buy him a saxophone, they found the instrument too expensive. Instead, they brought home a trumpet.
Young Leonard took to it, emulating his idol, Dud Bascomb, learning Tuxedo Junction and Gin Mill Special note by note. He jammed with his dad and other musicians.
By 1941 he began his musical career, touring for four years with the Carolina Cotton Pickers. Converting to Islam and changing his name to Idrees Dawud Sulieman, he played with Miles Davis, Charlie Bird, Earl Hines, Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1947, he recorded with Thelonious Monk.
He was one of the first, after trumpeter Gillespie, to be identified with bebop, said the Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz.
While he racked up impressive play dates, he found the life hard.
"I spent 16 years in New York," he recalled in 1980. "It was depressing. Sometimes in six months you'd only have two jobs. I got fed up with not working."
Looking for a wider field with more opportunity, he moved to Europe, settling in Stockholm, Sweden, where he took up the alto sax, the instrument he coveted from his youth, and later in Copenhagen where he played with the Danish Radio Orchestra.
He also was a member in Europe of the Clarke-Boland Big Band and the Radioens Big Band.
The musician occasionally visited his old hometown and retained a love for St. Petersburg. The city figured in some of his songs -- Mirror Lake and Beach Drive, for instance.
"He had quite a reserved nature," said Vic Hall, longtime jazz announcer for WUSF-FM 89.7, and a friend for 20 years. "He was not one of those extroverted types. He had a good sense of humor, and he was also dedicated to jazz music."
Funeral arrangements were not completed Friday.
-- Information from Times files was used in this obituary.
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