Tracking Haji Ahkba
Updated: 3 days ago
In a previous blog I talked about Haji Ahkba, a flugelhorn player who showed up at the Saturday Afternoon Jam at Harling's in the Spring of 2004.
He has done extensive work as a sideman with James Brown (where he's credited as George Dickerson) as well as Van Morrison. He's gigged with Little Milton, Bobby Blue Bland, BB King, Eddie Harris, Pony Poindexter, Stanley Turrentine, Barry Harris, Sun-Ra, Lou Donaldson, Archie Shepp and many more.
I told the story of my relationship with Haji; gigs we played together, his unorthodox lifestyle, and his move to New Orleans in 2005 shortly before Hurricane Katrina, after which I lost touch with him.
That blog was published March 1, 2021, 16 years from when I had any contact with him. At that time, I didn't know if he was even still alive. Read it here.
A year after publication, on March 10, 2022, I received a phone call out of the blue from someone I didn't know; Jamie Metrano. She was the wife of well-known actor Art Metrano, who died in September of 2021.
Haji had shown up at the shop and asked if he could run an extension cord out of the shop to where he was set up to busk right outside.
Jamie was ok with that. Haji was a snappy dresser, she could tell he was a really good musician and his busking by the shop might bring in more customers.
At first she thought he might be homeless and mentally ill. He had an old, beat-up car, a dog and a couple (that's two!) of cell phones, but no place to stay. He would sleep in his car for a couple of nights, then get a cheap motel room in which to shower.
She tried to help him in any way she could; she let him park his car behind the shop. She offered him food and money, she offered to help him find a place to stay. He refused everything. He said he was just fine and for her not to worry about him.
After a while she began to think maybe he wasn't mentally ill; maybe the way he lived was exactly how he wanted to live. He really seemed to do alright. He was making money, he was apparently eating ok, and his playing was amazing.
She did a google-search on Haji Ahkba and found the blog I had written. She immediately called me. She told me I had described him exactly. We talked for a while and I told her I thought he was living like he wanted to, and that she should just accept him as he is. I was reinforcing the conclusion to which she had already come.
She asked me if she could give him my phone number. Of course I said yes. Within 30 minutes Haji called me.
We had a nice chat; yeah, he was in Ft Lauderdale and doing good. He was looking for an apartment or a room to rent but things were pretty expensive there. He would find something sooner or later.
He talked a lot about a website, a publishing and production company he was running and so on and so forth; I could never get a clear vision of it all and didn't try too hard to understand. It's difficult to picture running a business like that when you're basically homeless and itinerant. I took it all with a grain of salt. It was nice to reconnect. His vibe was very pleasant in a laid-back stoned kind of way - just as I remembered him!
Another year went by and in the spring of 2023 I was working on a potential week or two of gigs in Key West. I thought perhaps I could go through Ft Lauderdale on the way and hook up with Haji, maybe sit in and play with him outside the shop if he was still there.
So I called him. Yeah, he was still in Ft Lauderdale. He'd found a cheap apartment and was still busking. I asked him about me coming through and sitting in with him.
He kind of hemmed and hawed and said he wouldn't want to do it without rehearsing.
I began to suspect he didn't remember me and all the times we'd played together during his time in Kansas City - with no rehearsal whatsoever!
Of course, it might be that the year or so he spent in Kansas City and a certain local guitarist he'd played with almost 20 years ago was such a small blip on his radar that it wasn't on the screen anymore. And yet...just the year before he had called me!
He asked for the phone number of Mark Valentine. He couldn't remember the name but from his description I knew of whom he was thinking. Mark is very active in the Kansas City music scene as a performer, producer and promoter. It was Mark who had booked and produced some of the shows on which Haji and I had played together. I gave him Mark's number and we talked for a while longer. I never shook the feeling that he didn't remember me. Maybe he was getting forgetful in his old age or maybe all the weed was catching up to him - or both.
I decided to not try and play with him if the gigs in Key West happened - which they didn't, so it was all moot.
On September 2nd of 2023 I received a comment with a picture on the original blog from someone who gave permission to use his comment but did not wish to be identified:
"I just met Haji at a Truckstop in KC. He was playing at a dogpark at the truckstop with his dog beside him. His playing woke me up and i was amazed at his sound. He said he was headed to chicago though. Gave him some gas money and a half pack of smokes. Seemed like a good guy."
The same day I got a call from Mark Valentine. Haji had called him from the same truck stop. Mark met up with him there, gave him $100 and sent him on his way.
Based on my previous phone conversation with Haji where it felt like he didn't remember me, I decided to steer clear.
I texted Jamie Metrano, told her Haji had come through Kansas City and asked permission to use her name in this blog. She said,
Hi Jay, you can use my name. My husband would have loved Haji. He’s been calling me periodically as he makes his way across the country in his very old, beat up car, with his dog Bruno by his side. He is in Tucson, Arizona now. He actually has a gig tonight. He is very resourceful and such a character. Jamie.
Jamie also wrote me the following:
Haji showed up at my shop, 2 months after my husband died. In some crazy way, I know he helped me through my most difficult days. I will be forever grateful. I’m sure he’s adding joy to others.
The music business is a world crammed FULL of unique and colorful characters. Haji Ahkba stands out for sure!
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