When Marcus arrived, the quality of human substance elevated and the level of interaction deepened
This has been a rough year for trumpet players. We have lost many giants: Clark Terry, Wilmer Wise, Lew Soloff and this Sunday we said goodbye to Marcus Belgrave.
Marcus was a member of the first touring iteration of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra that crossed the country in 1992. A great trumpeter and blues master of originality and deep soul, Marcus spent countless daytime hours teaching and inspiring hundreds of fantastic students from Bob Hurst, Geri Allen and Rodney Whitaker to James Carter, Regina Carter, Kenny Garrett and our own Ali Jackson. He also spent many a late night hour at session after session, enlivening the gig with his swinging horn, characteristically affable vibe and irrepressible spirit.
Whatever the occasion, when Marcus arrived, the quality of human substance elevated and the level of interaction deepened. For all of the hard times he had experienced, he maintained an undying optimism. His infectious smile and gravely laugh could always be counted on to penetrate and transform even the most pessimistic complainer. And when he started to play…he-he…watch out! He was grits and gravy and could turn the mood to blue with only a note or two.
A few years ago he came up out of the audience at Disney Hall in Los Angeles breathing with an oxygen tank. A good time followed him up on stage like a puppy, and he proceeded to blow all kinds of high notes and long phrases that he shouldn’t have been even trying. When he finished playing, people were all looking around saying, “I know we should know who this is…..but who is that?” It was the sound of reality. People were as deeply moved as the orchestra. Mr. Belgrave was for real and only knew one way to play – full out.
On August 10, 1988, the inaugural Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra played a concert of Duke Ellington Suites. Lew Soloff, Marcus Belgrave, Willie Cook and I were in the trumpet section. At that time, we were all being questioned about the value of playing Duke’s music. It seems silly today, but back then there was a belief that nothing in jazz should have lasting value except for recordings and that even the person who made the recording should never ‘look back’ to their own music.
At that time, I was 27 and Marcus was 52, we were playing Duke’s “Such Sweet Thunder”. One movement “Lady Mac” features a flugelhorn solo played by Clark Terry. It is very difficult and I think we only had two days of rehearsal. On the second day, Marcus came into rehearsal with Clark’s entire solo written out. I couldn’t believe that level of respect and integrity from a man who was a great and original soloist in his own style and rite. I said, “Man, what’s that?” He replied, “C.T.‘s solo.” “You wrote that all out.” I asked him, to which he replied “Hell yeah! I started listening and said ‘let me get a more exact focus on what he was doing’ so I wrote it out. It’s some hip shit.”
What Marcus played at that concert was hip too.
C.T., Lew and now Marcus. Damn!