Marcus Belgrave and Michele Ramo
by Piotr Michalowski
Detroit is celebrated as a place of origin for some of the finest musicians in jazz, but it is also a crossroads that has attracted and nurtured fine players from other towns and other lands be-fore sending them back out into the world. When one thinks of musicians such as Paul Chambers, Frank Foster, Sheila Jordan, or Yusef Lateef, their Detroit roots come to mind, but none of them was actually born there.
Two men who grew up far apart-in Pennsylvania and in Sicily-met in Detroit and are now creating new music together. Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave hails from Chester, Pennsylvania. He began to attract attention as a member of the small band that accompanied Ray Charles in the 1960s, but after five years on the road he decided to settle down in Detroit, attracted by the rich jazz scene and session work at Motown Rec¬ords. He went on the road again with Lloyd Price, but by 1967 he was back, and he has been living there ever since. Belgrave soon became one of the central voices on the local music scene, playing with just about everyone, but also inspiring and mentoring new generations of jazz musicians, among them Rodney Whitaker, Regina Carter, and James Carter. Belgrave is equally at home with traditional jazz, bebop, and the avant-garde, but what¬ever style he explores, he maintains a recognizable musical identity. Simply put, he is one of the greatest trumpet players in jazz.
Michéle Ramo came to this country from the Sicilian seaside town of Mazara del Vallo, where he started as a classical violinist and then took up the guitar as well. For years he was a member of Italian state symphony orchestras, but an early infatuation with jazz led him to move to the United States, where he settled in Detroit. In the Motor City he played all kinds of music, including his beloved jazz, and met singer Heidi Hepler, who soon became his wife and closest musical partner.
Among the people who helped him was, of course, Marcus Belgrave.
Eventually the couple moved to the East Coast, where they work with a wide range of artists of all generations playing jazz, Brazilian music, and the classics. Michéle now plays an eight-string guitar of his own design-it offers the player a seventy-eight-note range, only one octave less than a grand piano. With no frets under the lowest two strings, it's a perfect match to Ramo's complex, pianistic guitar style, allowing him to play single lines, chords, and a walking bass line all at the same time.
Belgrave and Ramo are coming on Friday, March 13, to Kerrytown Concert House to celebrate their new recording, The Song Is You: A Tribute to Lawrence G. Williams.
[Originally published in March, 2009.]