Southeastern Michigan and Northern Ohio lost one of its true jazz treasures when pianist Claude Black passed away on January 17 at age 80. A veteran of the Detroit, Toledo and Ann Arbor scene, Claude gave many virtuoso performances over six decades in solo performance, with trios, singers, small or large ensembles, orchestras, and famous stars.
In Detroit, he surrounded himself in the club scene and Paradise Valley district with some of the very best jazz musicians the city offered, including Candy Johnson, Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell, Pepper Adams and Milt Jackson. He accompanied the likes of Sonny Stitt, Yusef Lateef, Eddie Jefferson and Stan Getz during his prominent early professional years. Moving to Toledo in the mid-1970s, he was best known locally working with bassist Clifford Murphy and a raft of fine drummers in The Murphy’s trio. That band prominently backed singers Ramona Collins, Lori LeFevre, Glenda Biddlestone-McFarlin or Don ReVels, instrumentalists Joe Henderson, Frank Morgan, David “Fathead” Newman, Toledo native Jon Hendricks, Ernie Krivda, and other major names touring the Midwest.
Black’s most prominent credential was touring with Aretha Franklin, where he befriended the leader of the Civil Rights movement, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His collaborations with The Murphy’s at Murphy’s Place, spearheaded by the late Joan Russell, are now legendary in Toledo jazz lore. Black was also on the faculty of the University Of Toledo.
Claude Black was a pure gentleman. I recall many times at the Art Tatum Jazz Festivals, Murphy’s Jazz Parties, the Detroit Jazz Festival, or countless club dates, where he not only dazzled us with his musicianship, but his charm and humanity. Hopefully someone will write verse and chapter about the many stories and experiences that made Claude Black a one-of-a-kind genius in this great American art form.
His recordings specifically with The Murphy’s include the seminal After Hours and especially Cookin’ with Newman, Ow! with Claude, Clifford Murphy and Sean Dobbins on the Sophia label, The Detroit Jazz Tradition – Alive & Well with J.C Heard and saxophonist George Benson, Four Americans In Paris with Oliver Jackson, The Fabulous Franz Jackson featuring Black & Marcus Belgrave, and his leader efforts The Detroit Jazz Connection and The Nature Of Jazz — Live At The Peristyle.
There will be a memorial gathering for Claude Black in Toledo at 7:00 p.m., Monday, February 4, at Crystal’s Lounge in the Ramada Inn, 3536 Secor Rd. at I-475.