With a master’s degree in music performance from Cuny Queens College in Flushing, New York, 40-year-old bassist Ameen Saleem has become a regular fixture in the jazz scene, both locally and globally. He recently played in Portland to an enthusiastic house.
You’ve been given a “day pass” to sit down and talk to a musician who has passed. Who would that be?
Ray Brown. I can talk about Ray Brown all day. His sound is so big; he’s a virtuoso on rhythm. He plays the right notes at the right time. His timing is everything and his sound is just beautiful.
If you weren’t Ameen Saleem, whom would you choose to be?
I’m pretty happy being myself. I’d chose me every time. It’s all I know. I’ve enjoyed my life, I love my family and I’ve had lots of experiences that I wouldn’t change for the world. From my upbringing to what I’ve been exposed to, I wouldn’t change anything. If I did make those changes, I might not be where I am today.
What’s something in your background that most people don’t know about?
I was a cub scout and a boy scout. I was a middle child. My first instrument of choice was the French horn.
Before a concert, you’re on stage, with hands ready to play. Before the music begins, where is your mind and your heart?
It’s the calm before the storm…. When I was in college I liked to listen to the Oscar Peterson Trio with Ray Brown. As I’ve become older, I like to listen in contrast to what I normally listen to: say country or classical, hip-hop—and just relax. Let it come to me.
What tune would you suggest to someone who says they don’t like jazz?
Instead of a tune, I’d suggest an album: Max Roach’s Members, Don’t Git Weary with Max Roach on drums; Charles Tolliver on trumpet; Gary Bartz on alto saxophone; Stanley Cowell on piano and Jymie Merritt on the electric bass.