Dear Marcus Belgrave,
I missed your sets Saturday evening at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. I waited too late to make reservations. The maitre d’ said each set was booked solid. I was pissed. My friend William heard you weeks ago at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. He said you had the stamina of a man half your age, and the next time you played around town, I should attend.
Marcus, I am not a procrastinator. I miscalculated, figuring I could get into the Dirty Dog without a reservation. I was wrong. I talked with your wife vocalist Joan Belgrave last week about writing an article about her soon to be released album and her career. She spent most of the conversation promoting your new album, which will feature saxophonist Charlie Gabriel.
I want to review your album, but first I want to profile Joan. I caught Joan’s first set at Cliff Bells last month. I wrote a blog about how much I enjoyed her voice although some rude people in the audience talked louder than Joan sang.
Marcus, did the audience at the Dirty Dog enjoy your set? That café attracts a sophistical crowd. Are you surprised at age 73 you can still pack a club? I heard you took the gig to showcase some of your pupils from Oberlin College.
Marcus, have you seen the movie ‘Round Midnight, starring tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon as Dale Turner a hard luck jazz musician in Europe trying to make ends meet while trying to overcome his drinking problem? There is this scene where a man, who befriends Gordon’s, sits outside this jazz club in the rain. The man is a big fan, but he cannot afford the cover charge. The man stands outside the club listening to Gordon blow.
Marcus it rained Saturday evening the same time your first set began. I considered standing outside the Dirty Dog. I am not kidding. I wanted to hear you play that much. I thought about you this morning. I wondered how hard you and your pupils swung.
Over the years, I could always rely on you when I needed some insight on what is happening on the jazz scene not just in Michigan but also throughout the country. As long as I have known you, I never heard you play in an intimate setting such as the Dirty Dog. I know you more as a jazz educator shaping the next generation of jazz musicians. I have never known you to be a spotlight hog.
My favorite Marcus Belgrave moment was at the 2003 Detroit International Jazz Festivals. You showcased the current generation of trumpeters who you schooled such as Sean Jones and Corey Wilkes. You called the performance Marcus Belgrave and the Trumpet Summit. To this day, I think about that performance, and the way those trumpet players blew up the stage. You did not solo, and Sean Jones, who currently holds the first trumpet chair in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and who was one of the first jazz musicians to sign with Mack Avenue Records, stole the show.
You always have great stories to tell. Like when you played with Ray Charles. He underpaid the band, but you said it seem like a bunch of cash because Charles paid each musician in one dollar bills. Two years, ago backstage at the 2007 Detroit International Jazz Festival just before Herbie Hancock’s set. I asked you about saxophonist Leon Henderson, saxophonist Joe Henderson’s brother. I wanted to do a where-is-he-now story on Leon, but I had tough time tracking down information about the saxophonist. I decided to ask you. You could not confirm the saxophonist whereabouts, nor if he was still alive.
Then you told a story about helping the Leon get a job in trumpeter Ed Nuccilli’s orchestra. Nuccilli fired Leon soon after because the saxophonist refused to wear polished black shoes like his band-mates. You said the saxophonist ended up with a job in an auto factory where he had to wear a uniform.
Years ago, when I interviewed musicians for an article about your close friend bar owner Bert Dearing Jr. you recalled Dearing allowing you to run his bar for a month. At the time, you pleaded with Dearing to hire some national acts. Dearing explained why he could not. You persisted. Dearing gave you the keys to the bar. Right away, you hired a bunch of A-list jazz musicians and bands. After each show, you could not pay them. The bar lost money, and you never worked for Dearing again, but you guys remained friend.
You have always treated me respectfully. I thank you for that. That's why whenever you perform in Detroit I try to support you. I was willing to brave to rain Saturday evening to hear you. My wife refused to let out the house. She said our winter property tax bill is due soon, and I could not afford to miss work because I have a bad cold from standing outside the Dirty Dog while it rained. Instead of attending your sets, I went to the after Thanksgiving day sale at Macys. Marcus the next you have a gig at the Dirty Dog I promise I will be the first to make reservations.
Charles L. Latimer