Joan Belgrave photo by Herb Boyd
“If we could come together through a process of networking among musicians we could record and produce music on a grand scale and really draw the attention of the national recording industry,” percussionist George Davidson told a journalist in 1984.
A solid portion of that process, that grand scale was realized on August 1 at Cliff Bell’s during a benefit concert for the hospitalized Davidson. It was the ailing musician’s 75th birthday and near the end of the evening emcee Duncan McMillan led the crowd in a happy birthday salute to Davidson.
This loving chorus was widely outdone by a veritable parade of veteran and emerging musicians during the jam session, most of them soloing in front of a house band composed of pianist Tad Weed, bassist Kurt Krahne, and drummer Peter Siers. But they often conceded their yeoman like accompanying to others as they did when Buddy Budson sat behind the keyboards with Ron Brooks on bass, Gaylynn McKinney on drums, and John Swindell on trumpet.
After an engaging rendition of “If I Were a Bell,” perhaps a nod to the club’s name, they provided a gorgeous tapestry for songstress Joan Belgrave’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” and when she sang about facing a dawn with sleepless eyes it was done with more than a recitation of a lyric; it was something she voiced with intimacy.
With a similar passion came singer Gloria Baker with her version of “Save Your Love For Me,” and Weed’s bluesy solo complemented Baker’s plea, coloring her request with a chromatic flourish. On several numbers trumpeter Rayse Biggs and tenor saxophonist Vincent Bowens contributed comparable textures of sound and lyricism.
Then came Ursula Walker with Cole Porter’s “All of You” and the warm rapport between her and Budson was something Detroiters have long admired; and to hear Naima Shamborguer’s embrace of “The Nearness of You,” must have comforted Davidson, who listened to the benefit.
Along with the bundle of funds raised to help defray Davidson’s hospital expenses it was a joy to experience a fresh crop of Detroit musicians, particularly Benny Rubin and his impressionistic solo on Shamborguer’s moment; and the number of young performers who joined guitarist Perry Hughes in a rousing blast on “Invitation.” Taking turns enthralling the crowd were alto Saxophonist Kasan Belgrave, whose musical gifts from his late father, Marcus, were evident from the first cascade of notes; and Marcus Elliot on tenor sax was equally impressive.
For every musician on stage there was one in the audience who didn’t get a chance to perform such as guitarist Ron English, vocalist Robert McCarther and pianist Charles Greene both with their recordings in tow like percussionist Alberto Nacif, who did have a sizzling presentation on a Dizzy Gillespie standard.
At the end of the benefit, McMillan took a turn at the organ—and he said Davidson had named him “The Sophisticated Blues man”—followed on the instrument by Gary Schunk.
Listening to the organists was reminiscent of the days of yore when Davidson was behind the battery of drums and Lyman Woodard was setting the pace. Davidson’s son, Jamal, thanked the musicians for taking time to honor his father, but that’s what Detroit musicians do, and even more so when one of their own needs a song or two.