Jazz Great Marcus Belgrave Dead At 78

25 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Detroit jazz trumpet legend Marcus Belgrave dies at 78.

DETROIT (AP) — Marcus Belgrave, a jazz trumpeter who graced stages and studios with Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Cocker and Motown artists galore, died Sunday.The trumpeter — who passed away early Sunday morning, May 24, at the age of 78 — was nothing less than the local jazz scene’s preeminent jazz musician, bandleader and educator, with an equal and well-deserved national reputation.(*Via Detroit Free Press) – Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, the reigning patriarch of Detroit’s jazz scene, fought heart and pulmonary issues for years and used oxygen 24 hours a day. Belgrave died at an Ann Arbor care facility and the cause of death was heart failure, said Hazelette Crosby-Robinson, a cousin of Belgrave’s wife Joan.

His students included premiere artists such as Allen, Rodney Whitaker, James Carter, Regina Carter, Karriem Riggins, Robert Hurst, Kenny Garrett and more. “Marcus touched all of us in the most positive way,” said the Howling Diablos’ Martin “Tino” Gross. “If he was in the room the level of everyone’s playing shot way up. Born into a family of musicians in Chester, Pennsylvania, he started playing professionally at 12 and joined The Ray Charles Band in the late 1950s — what he once described as “the beginning of my musical life.” He came to Detroit in 1962 and became a studio musician for Motown Records, playing on hits including “My Girl,” ”The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “Dancing in the Street.” After Motown decamped to California in the early ’70s, Belgrave stayed in Detroit and co-founded Tribe Records and recorded with a collective of jazz artists. What a treasure.” Traverse City-based pianist Jeff Haas, who collaborated with Belgrave on clinics for school children and other musical programs, added that, “Working with Marcus for almost 12 years was one of the most meaningful and satisfying experiences of my life. He became an original member of Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in 1988 at the request of Wynton Marsalis, and in 2006 was featured at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s presentation, “Detroit: Motor City Jazz.” He also was a prolific mentor and teacher, serving as a professor or visiting artist at numerous institutions, including Detroit-area schools, Michigan State University, Stanford University, University of California and Oberlin College.

In a special book the philanthropic foundation published at that time, Belgrave said, “After 65 years of letting the music live through you, it just comes to you.” I love that man and will miss him.” The Detroit Jazz Festival, where Belgrave was slated to perform this year, posted a Facebook message calling him “a true friend to the Festival, the music an the many people whose lives were touched by his brilliance.” The DJF promised it “will be working to find appropriate ways to celebrate his life in the coming months.” Belgrave was also slated to perform at this year’s Concert of Colors, performing a July 12 concert billed as “A Tribute to Ray Charles and Great Ladies of Song.” The festival is determining what to do with that slot. His last public appearance was April 17 in Durham, N.C., as part of a “trumpet summit” with Russell Gunn and Rayse Biggs, but Belgrave continued to play in his hospital bed, including brief jam sessions with fellow musicians.

His wife, singer Joan Belgrave, reported that he “passed in his sleep peacefully” and that as recently as Saturday he “played his horn, sang” and watched the movie “Whiplash” about an aggressive jazz educator played by Grosse Pointe native J.K. Belgrave symbolized Detroit’s continued vitality as an incubator and epicenter of jazz, and he remained a key link between the city and the international jazz scene. “He became a mentor to entire generations of musicians, and a lot of us would not have found the music without him,” said bassist Rodney Whitaker. “He brought us together. Ultimately, however, Belgrave’s greatest contribution was the remarkable honor roll of his former students who graduated to leading roles on the national scene — including pianist Geri Allen, bassists Whitaker and Robert Hurst, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, violinist Regina Carter, and drummers Karriem Riggins, Ali Jackson and Gerald Cleaver. “With Marcus there was a pipeline from high school right into a safety zone in the scene,” Allen told the Free Press in 2012. “We saw the passion and the professionalism up close. He also worked with Max roach, Charles Mingus and Clark Terry among others and played on Motown hits such as “Dancing in the Street” and “My Girl.” In addition to performing Belgrave taught students at the Oberlin Conservatory, the Stanford Jazz Workshop and Detroit’s Civic Jazz Orchestra, and he created his own Jazz Development Workshop in Detroit. “The greatest thing I can do is to work with the next generation and the generation after that and the generation after that,” Belgrave once said. “I feel a responsibility to help keep this music alive and vital and pass on my passion to others.” Keyboardist Phil Hale noted that, “Over the years I’ve played in many situations where Marcus would come up and apply his years of expertise to the music-at-hand.

The students who became stars are by no means the whole story, because Belgrave’s influence extends to protegees like bassist Marion Hayden, who has become a pillar of the Detroit scene as a player and teacher. Initially inspired by Clifford Brown, his sound was broad and lustrous, and his solos unfolded in complete paragraphs of cogent melody, rhythmic wit and emotional resonance. He’s recorded bebop, blues, ballads, funk, fusion, free jazz, post-bop and in recent decades worked all over the country playing and singing the Louis Armstrong songbook with spot-on authenticity. Belgrave, who stood just 5 feet 4 inches tall, was an elfin figure with twinkling eyes, a gravelly voice and a bebopper’s beard that in later years turned more salt than pepper.

In his appearance at Dizzy’s Club in New York last July, Belgrave was especially proud to lead a band comprised of all current Detroiters and proteges. Critic Ben Ratliff wrote in the New York Times that the show was an example of the kind of music that doesn’t often get headlines: “Jazz played with a beautiful sense of proportion, modesty, refinement; using the full range of his instrument but free of aggression, anxiety, overplaying. (Belgrave) let the essence of the songs manifest themselves. It’s the result, maybe, of understanding something and then rendering it so that it coheres and can be passed on intact.” Marcus Belgrave was born on June 12, 1936, in Chester, Pa., a manufacturing town near Philadelphia. Belgrave’s cousin was baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne, who played with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, and it wasn’t long before Payne was teaching Belgrave to play bebop melodies by Charlie Parker. At 12, Belgrave began studying with a local teacher and performing with a concert band in nearby Wilmington, Del., that included Clifford Brown, six years older and on his way to becoming a major influence in jazz.

Brown took a shine to Belgrave and helped him learn to improvise by writing out a solo for him on the chords to “How High the Moon.” Belgrave joined the Air Force after high school and played in a service band stationed in Wichita Falls, Texas. But eventually he let me play obbligatos behind him on a ballad.” Belgrave made his first recordings with Charles, playing brassy solos full of bebop curlicues on “Blues Waltz” (1958) and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1959). Belgrave settled in Detroit in 1963, lured by the city’s reputation as a jazz mecca and the former stomping grounds of Pontiac-born Thad Jones, whom Belgrave revered. Belgrave later made numerous recordings for his own Detroit Jazz Musicians Co-Op label, including two exemplary CDs in the 1990s: “Live at the Kerrytown Concert House” (with Detroit pianists Tommy Flanagan, Geri Allen and Gary Schunk) and “Working Together,” which documents Belgrave’s partnership with the late drummer and composer Lawrence Williams. In later decades, Belgrave also appeared on recordings by Allen, Kirk Lightsey, McCoy Tyner, Horace Tapscott, Junko Onishi, Robert Hurst and David Murray.

In recent years, Belgrave found a measure of financial security by accepting a teaching post at Oberlin from 2001-2010, and he was awarded the $50,000 Kresge Eminent Artist prize in 2009.

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