By Randi Hoffman
Muhammad Salahudeen, the charismatic proprietor of a community center renowned for its late-night jazz jams, the East Village’s University of the Streets, died Nov. 15 at Cornell Medical Center. He was 78 and recovering from pneumonia.
John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Richie Havens are among the musicians who dropped by University of the Streets, located at E. Seventh St. and Avenue A, over the past 36 years. The jam sessions began at 11:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and ran until 4:30 a.m. the next morning.
“He knew everyone and everyone knew him,” said Salahudeen’s daughter, Alayne Salahudeen. Although Muhammad Salahudeen did not belong to any bands himself per se, he often joined in the jam sessions.
“It was a gathering place for musicians, a community of musicians,” said Jushi, a Chelsea-based bass player, poet and performance artist. “It was like you were in his living room. Muhammad attracted everybody, he didn’t turn anybody away. You could pay 50 cents or a dollar. He’s quite a remarkable man. He will be missed. The place will be missed.”
Muhammad Salahudeen was born Joseph Edward Slaughter in Maryland and raised in Philadelphia and Camden, N.J. He learned to play alto sax early on and came to New York City when he was 19. He converted to Islam in the late 1950s. He was married to Patricia Patur, a social worker now deceased, from 1963 to 1967. Their daughter, Alayne, still lives in the building at the corner of E. Seventh St. and Avenue A.
In the late 1960s, Salahudeen was an art teacher at the University Settlement House on the Lower East Side. He married Saadia (now Salahudeen) in 1976, and they had a son, Ollie. Saadia Salahudeen is currently a social worker at The Bridge, on W. 108th St., where she directs a program that finds homes for mentally ill adults.
The University of the Streets was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1969, and evolved as a community center over the decades. During the mid-1970s, the organization obtained a series of government grants and offered vocational training in plumbing, carpentry, electrical work and office administration to low-income community residents. The University of the Streets also offered Arabic language classes and a workshop on race relations for white-collar employees. From 1974 to 1981, Howard Latsof taught film and television production courses there. He is now spearheading a campaign claiming that a single dose of the drug Ibogaine cures heroin addiction.
In 1993, Jushi launched her Yakkity Yak poetry series at University of the Streets, featuring such poets as Chocolate Waters, Larissa Shmailo and Julie Patton.
“It was a venue for performers, a theater and a rehearsal space,” said Saadia Salahudeen. “No alcohol was allowed. It was really about the music, a place to learn and develop. We created linkages for students to find teachers and teachers to find students.”
“We were provided for, but he also worried about a lot of people who didn’t have. My father was very generous,” said Alayne Salahudeen. “He was a father to the neighborhood.”
Saadia Salahudeen added, “He was a great father, and sometimes his family did not understand that he was giving to so many people and we had to wait our turn.”
Beginning in 1994, Kenny Toglia, a neighborhood activist, ran a medical marijuana cooperative at the University of the Streets until it was shut down in 2004 by the police.
“Muhammad took risks for the people of the Lower East Side. So much would not have happened if not for him, ” said Toglia from Erie, Pa., where he now lives.
The restaurant 7A is located on the ground floor of the building owned by the Salahudeens. A karate dojo, Nisei Goju-Ryu, uses the second-floor space. Jazz concerts continue to be booked at University of the Streets, although the late-night jams now occur less frequently.
Muhammad Salahudeen was buried in Millstone, N.J. A memorial service for him is scheduled for Jan. 27 at University of the Streets. He is survived by his wife, Saadia, children, Alayne and Ollie, and grandchildren, Malik, Precious and Aliya.