Confusing identity details regarding this interesting tenor saxophonist and flutist will be presented quickly at the outset, getting the mundane out of the way so something more interesting can be discussed, specifically just how cheaply this artist bought into the beginnings of what would turn out to be a music career. Musa Kaleem's name at birth in Wheeling, WV, was Orlando Wright -- but he is neither the gospel singer nor blues bassist with this name. Furthermore, Kaleem also made use of the name Gonga Musa when a member of drummer Art Blakey's combo during the '40s. It all started for four bucks, much less than the price of a legal name change but apparently what Kaleem, then Wright, shelled out for his first clarinet in 1937. Two years later he went on the road as a tenor saxophonist with the El Rodgers Mystics of Rhythm group, featuring the amusing Eddie Jefferson as lead singer. The saxophonist became known as a reliable jazzman on the Pittsburgh scene, gigging with pianists Erroll Garner and Mary Lou Williams as well as Blakey.
Joining Fletcher Henderson, Kaleem was back and forth between the East Coast and Midwest before settling in New York City, where his late-'40s résumé was nothing if not impressive: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, the Savoy Sultans, and so on. He literally shipped out of the music scene as a seaman during the '50s, returning to do a bit of recording and performing in the early '60s with fellow reed nibbler James Moody. Kaleem's playing, nuanced enough to hold its own alongside the great Coleman Hawkins on a Tiny Grimes Prestige side, was unfortunately not documented thoroughly enough to result in heaping, steaming piles of sides. Kaleem made less than ten record dates, beginning in 1947 on a Blakey LP cut for Blue Note.