Monday, November 17, 2008


Jazz vocalist Joan BelgraveDear Joan Belgrave,

I want to explain why I left Cliff Bell’s (the renovated jazz club in downtown Detroit one block south of the Fox Theater) last night after your first set. For the record, it had nothing to do with your performance. You have a lovely voice, indeed. I first heard you sing at the 2007 Detroit International Jazz Festival. Your husband trumpeter Marcus Belgrave invited you to join the band. When you sang the atmosphere on the bandstand changed. The band was boiling over. You made the band simmer. Your hubby was amazed.

Saturday I planned to see the new James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. I changed my plans when I found out you were performing. I arrived at the club in time to catch your band bassist Marion Hayden, pianist Duncan McMillan, drummer Andre Wright and tenor saxophonist Allan Barnes warming up the stage. I figured I would experience a night of good music, but I could not concentrate.

The audience was noisy. Especially, the couple seated to my left, and the perfumed women behind me smoking. The cigarette smoke turned my eyes red, and made my chest hurt. I moved twice, but not far enough. I could barely hear you sing. I was busy coughing and rubbing my eyes.

What snippets of your performance I heard I liked. You are different from most jazz vocalists I have experienced. You sing more than jazz standards. You mix things up. You sang an obscure Billie Holiday song. Then you followed up with the song Grandma’s Hands” popularized by Bill Withers. Mrs. Belgrave did you hear the talkers? Did you want to confront them?. I could not tell if they upset you. You were so poised.

Mrs. Belgrave, I should have confront the talkers, and then demanded a refund. I did neither. I left instead. Driving home, I wondered if the club would lose business if they band smoking and talking while the musicians perform. I know Cliff Bell’s is a bar. Some people, however, actually go there to hear live music, and they should be able to without distractions . I hope the next time you perform at a local jazz club the audience will be attentive.

--Charles L. Latimer
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