Musician Marcus Belgrave remembered as soul of Detroit jazz

25 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Famed Detroit jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave dies at 78.

DETROIT — 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.

Hazelette Crosby-Robinson, a cousin of Belgrave’s wife, Joan, told the Associated Press that the musician died from heart failure in an Ann Arbor, Mich., care facility.DETROIT — 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. Born into a family of musicians in Chester, Pa., Belgrave 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.”

In his decades-long career, Belgrave played with Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Dizzy Gillespie and a wide array of other voices in the motown scene. 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. Belgrave would go on to become a studio musician for Motown Records and played on such hits as “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “My Girl” and “Dancing in the Street.” The trumpeter co-founded Tribe Records in Detroit after Motown Records moved to California in the early ’70s.

Aside from his studio work, Belgrave was known for an unmistakeable performance style, with a charming stage presence and an ability to soulfully improvise. 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.” In 2009, the Kresge Foundation feted Belgrave with the Eminent Award. “Detroit has lost a piece of its soul with the passing of Marcus Belgrave, who proudly embraced the city and its musical community as his own,” Kresge president and CEO said in a statement. “He exemplified artistic excellence – the individuality, creativity and openness to those qualities in others that are essential to jazz and a model for living.” 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. Like an African griot, he came to embody the soul and mythology of the city’s jazz history, handing down the values of swing and blues to multiple generations of students — many of whose fame would eventually outshine his own.

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, 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. How much we all love him can’t be expressed in words.” Most of Belgrave’s teaching came under the umbrella of his Jazz Development Workshop. a shoestring operation. 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. He started blowing a bugle at 4 and a trumpet at 6, taught by his father, a fine amateur musician, 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. 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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