Remembering Detroit Jazz Legend Marcus Belgrave

Marcus Belgrave is the Door to Jazz

Marcus Belgrave is the Door to Jazz, photo by Derek Farr

“In order to get to the future, you have to go to the past. I try to instill that you learn from the masters in your presence and go back and forward from there. In order to find yourself, you have to be cognizant of what went down before you. That’s always been my philosophy.”
~Marcus Belgrave

The Freep reports that world-renown trumpeter Marcus Belgrave has passed away at the age of 78.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Belgrave has had on musical culture in Detroit as a musician, teacher and standard-bearer of jazz. Like an African griot (historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet and/or musician), 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. 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. I have not met one musician from the last 50 years in Detroit that Marcus has not had some sort of impact on.”

Belgrave’s A-list resume included a long tenure with Ray Charles in the 1950s and early ’60s and associations with jazz royalty like Max Roach and Charles Mingus. 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.

Read on for lots more about this Detroit jazz legend and also check out their compilation of Belgrave recordings & videos – it’s some wonderful music. Be sure to also check out this great interview with Belgrave about the Detroit jazz scene and a bit of a performance from Eastern Market.

Derek says that four paintings including this one were put on doorways of an abandoned building on Gratiot Avenue near Downtown in 2005, but were taken down for some reason in 2008. View it bigger and see more in his massive Detroit Ruins (and other cities) slideshow.

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