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What Is This Thing Called Soul

Conversations on Black Culture and Jazz Education


Damani Phillips

How does academic jazz education impact the Black cultural value of soulfulness and esthetic standards in contemporary jazz music? Through candid conversations with nine of the country’s most highly respected jazz practitioners and teachers, What Is This Thing Called Soul explores the potential consequences of forcing the Black musical style of jazz into an academic pedagogical system that is specifically designed to facilitate the practice and pedagogy of European classical music. This work tests the belief that the cultural, emotional and esthetic elements at the very core of jazz’s unique identity, along with the music’s overt connection to Black culture, are effectively being "lost in translation" in traversing the divide between academic and non-academic jazz spheres.

Each interviewee commands significant respect worldwide in the fields of jazz performance and jazz pedagogy. Noteworthy subjects include: Rufus Reid, Lewis Nash, Nicholas Payton and Wycliffe Gordon—along with the late jazz masters Marcus Belgrave and Phil Woods. Interviews are supplemented by original analysis of the nature and validity of these issues contributed by the author.

What Is This Thing Called Soul offers a candid and objective look into pressing issues of race, culture and ethnic value in relation to both jazz music and jazz education. Sensitivity, marginalization and even a fear of offending others has limited open discussion of how the soul of jazz music can be lost in technical boundaries. What Is This Thing Called Soul is the first attempt to directly address such culturally urgent issues in jazz music.

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Chapter 5. Spirit and Hope: Marcus Belgrave Interview (1936–2015)



Spirit and Hope

Marcus Belgrave Interview (1936–2015)

Marcus Belgrave is a jazz trumpeter, educator and composer who was born in Chester, PA, but permanently settled in Detroit, MI. He came to prominence in the late 50s while touring and recording with the late great Ray Charles’ Orchestra from the age of 19. He was the last living member of Ray Charles’ small band horn section. He was also mentored by the great Clifford Brown, whose early influence on the young Belgrave can still be heard in his tone. Belgrave then spent the early 60s spearheading the modern jazz movement in New York working and recording in the bands of such major innovators as Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Max Roach. Belgrave moved to Detroit in the early 1960s to join Motown Records as staff trumpeter, playing on most of the major Motown hits. Establishing himself as Detroit’s foremost jazz musician, he was recently awarded the singular title of the official “Jazz Master Laureate for the City of Detroit”, as well as a fifty thousand dollar Kresge Eminent Artist award for his 46 years of service to the young musicians of Detroit in 2010. His performances encompass the history of jazz musical style – from early New Orleans, to Swing, Bebop and the latest contemporary sounds. Marcus continued to tour and record in the world’s major jazz centers up until his recent death.

Always the teacher, Marcus continues to mentor the “next...

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