The University of Michigan's annual veneration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King takes on a local tone when the University Musical Society presents "From Cass Corridor to the World: A Tribute to Detroit's Musical Golden Age," featuring pianist Geri Allen and her one-time mentor, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, Monday, January 21.
Detroit's jazz history reaches back almost a century. The urban mix, enriched over decades by the Great Migration from the South, provided a multiethnic and multicultural artistic palette, and the predominantly African American city core abounded with all kinds of music. Young talents were nurtured in a variety of social spaces: at home, in church, in public schools, and in the universities of the streets, whose mentors provided instruction and inspiration. The three most important such teachers were pianist Barry Harris, who trained generations of important artists prior to his move to New York in 1960, saxophonist Donald Washington, and Belgrave. Their work was aided by the high level of music instruction in the public schools, especially at Northern (Tommy Flanagan, Bess Bonnier, Smokey Robinson), Northwestern (Betty Carter, Roy Brooks, Wendell Harrison), Miller (Frank Rosolino, Milt Jackson), and Cass Tech high schools. Cass Tech produced such illustrious alumni as singer Diana Ross, comic Lily Tomlin, and, of course, successful jazz players, among them Gerald Wilson, Donald Byrd, Regina Carter, and Geri Allen.
Allen was born in Pontiac but raised in Detroit. Her early musical training was enriched and developed in the years during which she studied and performed with Marcus Belgrave in his grassroots university-of-the-streets Jazz Development Workshop, which opened in 1975. Belgrave, originally from Pennsylvania, had traveled all over the globe with the Ray Charles band and had recorded with some of the best players in New York, but he settled in Detroit to work in the house band of Motown Records. His workshop, housed in a storefront on Gratiot Ave., trained many young jazz musicians; those performing at the Hill Auditorium celebration include the
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