Drummer Salah Ragab is credited with starting up Egyptian jazz, with his co-founding of the Cairo Jazz Band. He also recorded with the Sun Ra Arkestra on two separate occasions and later with the German band Embryo (which Mal Waldron and Abdullah Ibrahim performed in at times). A Major in the Egyptian Army through the 1960s, and an avid jazz fan and drummer, Ragab first attempted to form a jazz band in 1964, with American saxophonist Mac X. Spears. The group didn't get very far, as Spears left Egypt right after its formation. Then, in December, 1966, Ragab met Hartmut Geerken and Eduard "Edu" Vizvari at a reception following a Randy Weston Sextet show. The three hit it off and decided to form the Cairo Jazz Band. Fortuitously, Ragab was soon (early 1968) appointed Chief of Egypt's "Military Department of Music." From the thousands-large group of professional musicians Ragab was in charge of, he chose about 25 for the Cairo Jazz Band and held crash courses in jazz history for these musicians -- whose only background had been national anthems and military marches -- while Geerken and Vizvari arranged and composed for the group. Cairo Jazz Band's debut performance occurred at Ewart Memorial Hall of the American University (where Weston had performed) in February, 1969, and included compositions by all of the group's founders, as well as arrangements of works by Dizzy Gillespie, Nat Adderley, Count Basie and more. The group drew large audiences in Cairo and Alexandria, and, with Ragab drumming, recorded in the early '70s, including Ragab's compositions "Oriental Mood" and "A Farewell Theme," which was a tribute to the late Gamal Abdel Nasser. Ragab met Sun Ra on Ra's first visit to Egypt in December, 1971. Sun Ra had come at Geerken's invitation, and his performances included an impromptu session in the host's living room. Ragab was in attendance, and met Ra. When Sun Ra returned in May, 1983, the Arkestra -- joined by Ragab on drums and congas -- recorded two of Ragab's compositions, "Egypt Strut" and "Dawn," a piece based on an Islamic hymn sung at the beginning of the Arabic month, "Shawall." The Sun Ra Arkestra was back early the next year, and Salah Ragab sat in on their performance at the Il Capo Jazz Club. Ragab's jazz recordings can be heard on Golden Years' 1999 reissue of Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab in Egypt. He also performs with Abdullah Ibrahim on at least one album of the German group, Embryo, entitled Embryo's Reise.
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