Remembering Marcus Belgrave: A world-class musician and mentor

The world has lost another jazz icon. Detroit, in particular, has lost its longtime jazz hero Marcus Belgrave. The trumpeter and mentor to many jazz greats, made his transition on Sunday, May 24.

At 78 years young, Belgrave still played superbly and had the same passion and vigor for the music as he did growing up in Chester, PA under the influence of his idol Clifford Brown.

“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.” — courtesy of Detroit Free Press.

Belgrave and his wife Joan were a staple on the Detroit scene as well as nationally. I was lucky enough to see Belgrave perform numerous times over the last few years, most recently at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in Grosse Pointe Farms. Joan Belgrave was headlining a show there and Marcus came in half-way through her set and jammed a bit with the band. His beautiful solos and deep raspy vocals, mirroring Louis Armstrong set the crowd on fire and it was a memorable performance that I will never forget.

He literally elevated the landscape of Detroit jazz with his skills, his charm, his eye for talent as well as the countless hours he spent teaching musical as well as life skills to countless musicians.

As the old saying goes “he may be gone, but his spirit lives on.” And in Belgrave’s case, his lively spirit will always be heard within jazz clubs and on records all over the world.

To read more about Belgrave, check out Mark Stryker’s article in the Detroit Free Press.

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