Concert fundraiser continues Marcus Belgrave’s legacy

Steven Sonoras
Special to The Detroit News

Iconic jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave lent his copper horn to recordings by such legends as Ray Charles, Max Roach, Charles Mingus and Ella Fitzgerald, but his favorite collaborators were always his students.

Belgrave, who died last May at age 78 of heart failure, will be celebrated March 10 with an all-star concert fundraiser at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The lineup features Belgrave’s widow, jazz vocalist Joan Belgrave, along with many of his famous proteges, including pianist and Guggenheim Fellow Geri Allen, drummer Karriem Riggins (who has played for Common and Paul McCartney) and trumpeter Rayse Biggs (who has played for Detroit native KEM).

The night will begin with a performance by the Jazz Development Workshop Youth Ensemble, comprised of the last group of students Marcus Belgrave mentored, which includes his son, alto saxophonist Kasan Belgrave.

Proceeds from the event will fund a memorial scholarship that will help continue Belgrave’s lifelong work supporting young musicians.

“When Kresge came to me and said they would like to help sponsor a tribute to Marcus, I said there’re a lot of people who want to do tributes, but what I want to do is something deeper than that,” says Joan Belgrave, who organized the event.

“I don’t want it to be a payday for whomever. I want it to be about something that touched his heart, and that was funding young musicians.”

Marcus Belgrave was known just as much for his teaching and mentoring as his performing. In addition to the Jazz Development Workshops, he taught at the Stanford Jazz Workshop and was a visiting professor at Oberlin (Ohio) Conservatory. Joan Belgrave says her husband believed musical education should reach beyond classroom walls.

“One of the things Marcus was really adamant about was that young musicians’ education should not only be at the college level,” she says. “To be a well-rounded musician, they need exposure to experienced musicians and on-stage, trial-by-fire performances with seasoned musicians.”

Many of the performers scheduled to appear at the benefit attribute their connections with other musical legends early in their education to Marcus Belgrave. Whenever a peer was in town, Belgrave made sure they made an appearance at one of his workshops.

“Ken Garrett was exposed to Miles Davis because of Marcus,” Joan Belgrave says. “Rayse Biggs was exposed to KEM because of Marcus. Dwight Adams was exposed to Stevie Wonder because of Marcus. It’s so important that that avenue is not closed. He (Marcus) worked for 50 years doing those types of things, and I would feel remiss if I just let it die.”

Geri Allen, director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh, met Marcus Belgrave when she was a student at Cass Tech High School, where Belgrave was a jazz-artist-in-residence. Her weekly workshops with Belgrave led to a lifelong mentorship and friendship.

“He was extremely generous, and we all benefitted from that,” Allen says. “To lose someone like him is really a tragedy for all of us.”

Joan Belgrave says she hopes the Marcus Belgrave Scholarship will allow her to offer even more opportunities to up-and-coming artists. She says the nonprofit workshop organization was able to send two young players last year to Allen’s All-Female Jazz Residency in Montclair, New York.

“It was a weeklong, hands-on experience with some amazing musicians,” she says. “I want to continue to be able to do that, because those experiences are life changing for youngsters.”

Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

The 1st Marcus Belgrave Scholarship Fundraiser Concert

7 p.m. March 10

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

315 E. Warren, Detroit

Tickets are $25 for general admission; $100 for VIP seating and afterglow reception

Ticket info at (313) 640-8552 or (734) 945-1721

or at joanbelgrave.com