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A Magnificent Journey

MARCUS BELGRAVE  1936- 2015

We have lost a friend and a master musician in Marcus Belgrave.                                     Here is a post I made for the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe following Marcus’ last appearance there    April 11 2014.                                                                                                                                 John Osler


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We all take unique paths in our lives. Some of us travel far from home while others stay close to home. The length of the journey is less important than what the experience teaches us, and what we do with that knowledge.

Detroit’s jazz master laureate, Marcus Belgrade, has had quite a life. Born near Philadelphia, Marcus got his first trumpet at six years old and played with Dizzy Gillespie at age thirteen. He was fast tracked into the music world. He got his chances to play, to learn and to travel. He played for years in Ray Charles’ seven man band. He put in his time on the road in the bus and on the road life was moving pretty fast, maybe too fast. A lot of the guys that he knew in New York came from Detroit and they made Detroit seem like an alluring place to settle. In Detroit he found that he could make as much money playing for Motown as he did in New York and then go home at night. Since the seventies he has made Detroit his home base, but he has continued to travel. He was an ambassador for jazz to Europe, Asia , Africa, Latin America and the Middle East in part with the U.S. Agency for International Development. For seven years, Marcus took an eight-member band to 50 cities across America, performing his Tribute to Louis Armstrong. Marcus got around.

If he had stayed in New York, Marcus would perhaps be known for the unique tone that comes out of his custom made trumpet, but back in Detroit, he carved out the path he is best known for, his dedication to passing on the music. The name Marcus Belgrave is synonymous with educator. The musicians he has touched, Kenny Garrett, Gerri Allen, Regina Carter, Rodney Whitaker etc. carry this message. Charlie Gabriel said “He can bring out the best in young musicians, because he is an educator who can get into the depth of the music in its full form.” Marcus says, “I’m not so much a teacher as I am a motivator.”

Last week Marcus and his horn had been missing in the band for the first three nights of his wife Joan Belgrave’s  gig at the Dirty Dog. Saturday night, just a couple of hours after being discharged from the hospital, Marcus showed up. The band paused as he was seated at a table with the help of his long time friend, the trumpet player Rayse Biggs. This could have been an awkward moment .. but it wasn’t. It was a tribute to the respect and love that this man has earned. The fact that his life had touched all those on the bandstand was evident in their music and on their faces. The capacity crowd knew what was going on and that it was a special moment. Then while still sitting facing the band, he started to play. Grins replaced looks of relief. Joy filled the room along with Marcus’ great tones. They finished with a raucous version of Summertime… and the living is easy.  A fitting ending to one of our first warm spring days. Smiles and hugs followed.

Marcus has passed on to others much of the good fortunes his life has given him. Many generations have benefited from the wisdom he has passed out while on his lifelong odyssey.  What a gift.  What a legacy.                                                                                     John Osler

Here are some photos from that Saturday night. What a night. With Marcus Belgrave, trumpet; Marion Hayden, bass; Gayelynn McKinney, drums; Ian Finkelstein, piano; Marcus Elliott, tenor saxophone; and Joan Belgrave, vocals




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Marcus’ life touched so many of us. For those who didn’t know Marcus but listen to music your experience has changed because he hung around Detroit being Marcus.

Thanks for everything Marcus.

John Osler

Here are some of my photos of Marcus  and Joan Belgrave taken at the Dirty Dog.


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Here are some of my photos of Marcus teaching at the Carr Center.


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HIS MUSIC LIVES.

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