June 2006

Marcus Belgrave
at the Toronto Jazz Festival
June 28, 2006The Pilot TavernToronto
About Last Night
by Paul J. Youngman
Jazz festival time is a great time in Toronto; clubs that I normally wouldn’t attend lure me out with the promise of great music. After taking in a concert, what better way to end the night than with a night cap at a nearby club featuring trumpet master Marcus Belgrave and his quartet?

Marcus Belgrave made his name as a teenage virtuoso trumpet player with the Ray Charles band. He joined the band in 1954 (at the age of 18) and according to Belgrave stayed onboard until 1963. He has recorded with numerous luminaries, including Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, David Newman, Dave Murray, Franz Jackson, Sammy Price, Kirk Lightsey, Cecil Payne and Art Hodes. He has also been a featured artist with the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra. (Excerpt from: The Trumpet Kings by Scot Yanow – Backbeat Books 2001).

Belgrave is the co-founder of the jazz studies program at Detroit Metro Arts Complex and the Jazz Development Workshop in Detroit. He is currently professor of music at Oberlin University in Oberlin, Ohio. Students his mentorship has influenced include Geri Allen, Bob Hurst, Kenny Garrett and Lawrence Williams.

The club that featured Marcus Belgrave last night is the Pilot Tavern located at 22 Cumberland St. (the Yorkville Area of Toronto — home of the Hippie movement of the 60’s). The Pilot is a three story building that has a bar on the main floor, a lounge with a stage on the 2nd floor and a rooftop patio. The Stealth Lounge — according to the banner at the back of the stage, is a very intimate room, seating about one hundred people. The sight lines are great, the sound is fair and the atmosphere is friendly. Club owner Alex Stuart explained to me that the Pilot tradition is to offer live jazz on Sunday from 3:30 – 6:00 with no cover charge. A great idea and a much-needed jazz club, to help take the place of the recently departed Top of the Senator jazz club.

We arrived just in time to catch the last set of Marcus Belgrave and it was a spiritual performance. Belgrave is a fine trumpet player; he has a magnificent tone in the style of a Clifford Brown. On a swinging rendition of Mingus’ “Open Letter To Duke”, Belgrave solos burst into fiery runs punctuated with clean accentuations. The song featured all the players in the band. Archie Alleyne on drums, who can swing with the best of them, pushed the band along with a driving force. Robi Botos on keyboard was very much at home in this swing number and ad-libbing nicely. Ron Johnson on bass violin, as introduced by Belgrave, was on fire this night, giving a wonderful bop bass clinic.
Marcus Belgrave
I was totally caught off guard by the next song, Belgrave singing, “A Kiss To Build A Dream On.” I had to shake my head; I was in the presence of the great Satchmo, that smooth gravely voice with a phrasing that is so distinct. Belgrave is the second coming of Louis Armstrong, of this there is no doubt. The audience was completely absorbed, caught in the magic and loving every moment.

On the song “You Are My One And Only Love” Joan Bow was introduced, a spiritual force that had Belgrave looking for a place to hide. Bow was after him, she was holding him as the centre of her attentions, she pursued and he retreated, all the while harmonizing with her on vocal and trumpet. The interaction between these two is great and the audience loved it. Bow’s singing on “Caravan” was inspiring. She sang it in a lower key to blend with Belgrave’s lower register. Joan Bow is a real treat, and together with Marcus Belgrave, this is an act that is a must see and hear.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Paul J. Youngman
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