Marcus Belgrave, jazz musician, dead at 78

on Thu, 05/28/2015 - 13:15
Marcus Belgrave

Marcus Belgrave, a trumpet and fluegelhorn player who worked with Ray Charles, Charles Mingus, Max Roach and others before settling in Detroit in the early 1960's and becoming a coach and conscience for that city's jazz scene, died on Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was 78.

His wife, the singer Joan Belgrave, said he died of heart failure, the result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, at Glacier Hills, a care and rehabilitation facility.

In one way or another, Mr. Belgrave was mentor to many of Detroit's greatest jazz musicians over the past 50 years. They include the pianist Geri Allen, the saxophonists Kenny Garrett and James Carter, the violinist Regina Carter, the bassists Rodney Whitaker and Robert Hurst, and the drummers Karriem Riggins and Ali Jackson.

In the early 1970's, as the live jazz scene in Detroit shrank and Motown Records, which had given work to Mr. Belgrave and many other local musicians, decamped for Los Angeles, he became involved in teaching opportunities that had grown out of antipoverty programs instituted under President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Mr. Belgrave founded the Jazz Development Workshop as a structure for his formal and informal teaching in schools, after-school programs, camps and workshops. Eventually he took teaching positions around the country, the longest of which was at Oberlin College in Ohio from 2001 to 2010.

Mr. Belgrave was born in Chester, Pa., on June 12, 1936. At 12, in Wilmington, Del., he joined a concert band that included the trumpeter Clifford Brown, who would have great influence on his driving, organized, melodic improvising.

Mr. Belgrave joined Ray Charles at 21 and played with him on and off for five years, touring with him and performing on "The Genius of Ray Charles" and other records. When not playing with the Charles band, he worked with Mingus and Roach in New York.

Mr. Belgrave moved to Detroit in 1963. "This was just a natural place for me to come", he said in an interview with The Detroit Metro Times in 2003. "This was probably the only place in the country where music was No. 1."

He played on many Motown sessions for the next two years, and toured with Lloyd Price, Jerry Butler and other R&B singers until 1967.

In addition to Ms. Belgrave, his third wife, he is survived by two daughters, Akua Belgrave and Marcia Monroe; two sons, Kasan Belgrave and Marcus Belgrave Jr.; a stepdaughter, Alia McCants; two stepsons, Kenan Smith and Landon Smith; a sister, Eudora Muhammad; and three brothers, Darnley, Louie and Lemmuel. He had homes in Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Mr. Belgrave's teaching tended to overshadow his recording career, but he made several albums as a leader after leaving Ray Charles. They include "Gemini II", his first, a powerful, spacey jazz-funk record released in 1974 but little heard before its CD reissue 30 years later; "Working Together" (1992), a sophisticated postbop record with the drummer Lawrence Williams, one of his old colleagues in the Jazz Development Workshop; and "You Don't Know Me" (2006), a mixture of early jazz numbers and songs from the Ray Charles repertoire, one of several albums he made with his wife.

He also recorded with Geri Allen, the saxophonist Joe Henderson and the pianist Horace Tapscott, among others. In 1988 he was a founding member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (now the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra), and he toured with it through the mid '90s.

A sunny and energetic presence, Mr. Belgrave performed in recent years while on oxygen support, playing every day to help his lungs. He performed last July at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York with his latest Detroit protégés and at his death was preparing for an appearance at Orchestra Hall in Detroit on July 12.

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