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Reunion in the Garden

The reunion of Marcus Belgrave and David "Fathead" Newman was the most anticipated event of the Jazz in the Garden concert series. But according to Belgrave organizing it was a nightmare. Alexander Zonjic, the coordinator of the series, asked Belgrave to participate. The concerts are Thursdays in the atrium of the GM Renaissance Center. Belgrave wanted to reunite with Newman. Both were members of the Ray Charles band. At the SereNgeti Ballroom five years ago they performed together for the first time since leaving Charles’ band.

In 1956, Newman joined Charles, and two years later Belgrave. They developed a lasting friendship. Belgrave played on Newman’s first album Ray Charles Introduces David "Fathead" Newman, which Charles launched. Newman stayed with Charles for ten years, and Belgrave toured off and on for seven. Charles taught both that jazz and the blues are inseparable.

" We were trained by the greatest musician. Ray taught us that you can’t separate the jazz from the blues," Belgrave recalled.

Newman agreed to the reunion, and Zonijic advertised it. There was a glitch, however. Newman didn’t check with his wife before accepting. Coincidentally, she had scheduled a gig for him in Europe the same day.

" Zonjic started advertising the concert. David called me back a few days later. He told me that he couldn’t make the gig," Belgrave said.

Belgrave tried several times to persuade Newman to reconsider. Newman apologized for reneging. Belgrave didn’t want to scrap the concert. So he hired the blues signer Thornetta Davis as a replacement.

" Two hours after Thornetta agreed to play with me David call to tell me that he had cancelled the gig in Europe and that he could make the reunion date."

Belgrave and Newman performed the first set, and Davis sang during the second.

The music Belgrave and Newman performed stuck to your ribs. The first number Sunshine was muffled by the chatting coming from the audience. The chatters bothered the rhythm section more so than Belgrave and Newman.

After they soloed, pianist Gary Schunk took over. He commanded the audience attention. The louder they talked the faster and louder he played. Like rubber his fingers were bouncing off the keys.

The bass player Marion Hayden matched Schunk’s verve. She plucked the bass as if trying to extinguish a blaze. Drummer Milton Hale struggled. To keep pace with the others, he worked feverishly.

The audience settled down when Belgrave and Newman performed Delilah , a ballad popularized by Max Roach and Clifford Brown. Belgrave waltzed with his flugelhorn, and Newman’s flute was hypnotic. Henceforth, they kept the audience attention.

They were smooth as grits and butter on the Norris Austin’s Cellar-Groove, which they recorded in 1962 onFathead Come On. Belgrave teased him during the introduction of Hard Times, Newman’s signature tune.

"This is the song that made David famous. I don’t know why," Belgrave joked.

In theory, keeping Thornetta Davis on the bill should have worked because Newman likes working with vocalists. He has recorded with Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Scott, and recently with his son Cadino Newman.

Davis is alluring. The title queen of Detroit blues she has earned. But the song that she thought would floor the audience Meet Me with Your Black Drawers On was too racy. Instead of flooring she shocked them.

Her performance didn’t fare. She opened with the Percy Mayfield’s classic Please Send Me Somebody to Love, and a tune by Muddy Waters. The mostly white-collar audience wasn’t true jazz enthusiasts. Given the audience chatter, the concert for most of them was nothing more than an after work diversion.

She tried to get them to sing along with Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On . Some joined end, but most seemed appalled.

Performing a song replete with sexual innuendo to an audience of corporate executives was tasteless. An artist of Davis’s experience should know what material is suitable.

The explic it material is appropriate for a festival crowd, or the patrons that frequent bars that feature blues music.

Keeping Davis on the bill proved to be a mistake. Belgrave has mistaken before. Similarly, two years ago, at the C-Pop Gallery, Belgrave invited an opera singer to perform a number with the Vincent Chandler Quintet. She sung a Negro spiritual that destroyed the mood that Chandler’s quintet has established. Her cameo was disruptive. At the reunion concert, Davis’ appearance was similar.

Notwithstanding, the concert was nostalgic. Belgrave and Newman rekindle the togetherness they once shared while with Ray Charles’ band. In fact, they played as if they never left.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Marcus Belgrave David
  • Concert Date: 10/23/2003
  • Subtitle: David Marcus Belgrave
  • Venue: GM Renaissance Center
  • City State Country: Detroit, MI
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