Sadik Hakim

Sadik Hakim. (Image: Public Domain)

In 1982, the music world lost a legend with the death of Thelonious Monk. At Monk’s funeral, thousands gathered to pay their respects. One of Monk’s former colleagues sat at the piano and played, according to legendary jazz writer Ted Joans, “a sad but soulful” version of Monk’s own “’Round Midnight.” That pianist was Duluth-native Sadik Hakim, who played and recorded with jazz icons from the 1940s to the 1980s. Down Beat magazine described him as “one of the unsung veterans who helped forge the bebop revolution.”

Born Argonne Dense Thornton on July 15, 1919, in Duluth, Hakim was raised—and trained—by his grandparents. His mother, Texas-native Maceola Vivian Williams, married mailman and St. Paul-native Luther Matthew Thornton at Duluth’s St. Mark’s A.M.E. Church in Duluth on October 9, 1916. They lived on Park Point at 3720 Minnesota Avenue, but the marriage had its problems, perhaps due to their age difference: Luther was 18 years older than Vivian. By January of 1922, they had separated and Luther was charged with non-support. That July Luther filed for divorce, alleging desertion. Both parents left Duluth by 1925, and young Argonne went to live with his grandparents, Henry and Jessie Williams.

By the 1890s Henry Williams—born in about 1865 in Natchez, Mississippi, to a slave mother—had landed in St. Louis, where he worked as a porter and studied music under several teachers. While in St. Louis, Henry organized a concert band that became very popular, performing in city parks. He moved to Duluth about 1904 and worked as a barber and later as an elevator operator in the old U.S. Government Building and Post Office at 431 West First Street. Henry also operated the Williams Violin School, where he taught violin to about 400 children over the years. He composed numerous spirituals and patriotic songs now forgotten (including “Bells of Emancipation” and “NRA March”) and sometimes conducted his own compositions with the local WPA band and the Duluth Civic Band. The family often performed as a chamber group—Henry played violin, his wife Jessie played cello, daughter Maceola played violin, and younger daughter Lucelia played piano and violin. Henry also wrote a radio play entitled “The Rising Sons of America.” In later years, he published a small monthly newspaper called the Progressive News Review. Henry and Jessie lived at 125 West Palm Street in Duluth Heights.

While Argonne attended Washington Junior High School and Central High School, he learned to play music through his grandfather’s lessons, beginning with trumpet but soon switching to piano. Argonne was drawn to jazz, but Grandpa Henry disliked the newly emerging form—he called it “ragtime” and wanted Argonne to strictly play classical music. Argonne had to wait until his grandfather had gone to work before he could listen to his jazz records.

Argonne left Duluth around 1937 and traveled to Los Angeles to visit his father. He returned to Minnesota and lived in the Twin Cities for a while, and in 1938 he went to Peoria, Illinois, to perform with trumpet player and singer Fats Dudley. By 1940 he relocated to Chicago and found work there playing with Jesse Miller, A. K. Atkinson, and Ike Day. He also met and played with Charlie Parker and performed on radio with Ben Webster.

In 1944, Webster invited him to New York. There he met up with Parker again and for a time roomed with him in an eight-room Harlem apartment. The apartment attracted musicians like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Dexter Gordon; Billie Holiday also lived there for a while. Argonne accompanied Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the legendary 1945 Ko-Ko Jazz Session for Savoy Records. Argonne toured with Lester Young from 1946 to 1948, and was involved in several memorable recordings for Aladdin Records, including the famous “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid” (which Argonne composed), named for the New York disk jockey Symphony Sid Torin.

In 1947, Argonne embraced the Muslim faith and changed his name to Sadik Hakim. He toured with the James Moody Orchestra from 1951 to 1954 and in Buddy Tate’s band from 1956 to 1959. Sadik composed over 80 pieces of music in his life, including (along with Idrees Sulieman) the song Eronel, which for a long time was incorrectly credited to Thelonious Monk. The title is the backwards spelling of Lenore, an old girlfriend of Sadik’s. In 1961 he made his first record as the lead instrumentalist in East Meets West.

In 1966, Sadik moved to Montreal where, except for a tour of Europe in 1972, he stayed for 10 years. In Canada, he recorded two albums for Radio Canada International, London Suite and Sadik Hakim Plays Duke Ellington. He returned to the United States in 1976 and his trio, which consisted of Sadik on piano, Dave LaRocca on bass, and Al Foster on drums, appeared in a concert at the University of Minnesota Duluth on May 26, 1976, as part of the Duluth Public Library’s Celebrate Duluth’s Heritage Bicentennial program. Returning to New York, he made several recordings on the Progressive label, including Memories and A Bit of Monk, and toured Japan in 1979-1980 where he played large concert halls before enthusiastic crowds.

Back from Japan, Sadik moved into a lower Manhattan apartment and played in local jazz clubs. He died in New York on June 20, 1983, a year after he performed at Thelonious Monk’s funeral.

Story by David Ouse. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by David Ouse.