Concert to benefit musician Claude BlackWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
University of Toledo Jazz is banding together to play a benefit concert for local legend, jazz pianist Claude Black.
Black, who has been with UT for about four years, was hospitalized before Christmas because of failing kidneys, high blood pressure and the return of cancer. The Jan. 31 concert’s proceeds will go toward covering Black’s medical bills.
UT Jazz, a group for the UT jazz community and its supporters, hopes to raise “as much as possible. I know [Black’s] hurting. He has quite a few bills that go quite a ways back,” said Gunnar Mossblad, director of jazz studies at UT.
“I feel very humbled that [UT Jazz] would do something like that. That’s pretty special. I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Black said of the department’s decision to play a benefit concert.
Black, a Detroit native, began his career as a teenager. He played at the legendary Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit as the pianist five days a week and at Murphy’s Place in Toledo.
“He’s been a staple in the greater Detroit/Toledo area for his whole life practically,” Mossblad said.
The jazz pianist specializes in bebop.
“It was a particular form of music and it took a particular mind to catch on it and Claude was the bebop player in the Detroit area,” said renowned jazz singer and lyricist Jon Hendricks, Black’s longtime friend and colleague.
Black went on to play with Aretha Franklin in the 1960s when she joined Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement.
“It was really great, nice, excellent,” Black said of playing with Franklin, getting to talk to King and meeting Harry Belafonte, who also toured with King and Franklin.
Black, who is on hiatus from teaching, counts playing during that time as a career highlight. He also names teaching at UT as another career peak.
“Coming to UT has been one of the highlights of my career. I now can share my experiences with the students,” he said.
The faculty and students love him, too. “Claude is probably one of the kindest, most giving people I’ve ever met,” Mossblad said. “We lovingly joke that we know when he’s in the building, because we always recognize his warm-up exercises on the piano.”
Black was upgraded to rehabilitation in mid January and is slated to begin radiation treatments soon. “It seems like I’m doing a little better each day,” Black said.
Hendricks and Mossblad plan to play at the benefit concert, in addition to Jeff Halsey, Ron Brooks and George Davidson. Mossblad said concert selections and other artists are being finalized.
Tickets are $3 for students and seniors and $5 for general admission; additional donations are welcome. The concert is 8 p.m. Jan. 31 at in the UT Center of Performing Arts’ Recital Hall. Donations can also be mailed to Gunnar Mossblad at 2801 W. Bancroft St., MS 605, Toledo 43606.