Jazz pianist Black died Jan. 17Written by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Famed jazz pianist and Toledo legend Claude Black died in hospice the early morning of Jan. 17.
Black, a Detroit native, had battled cancer for some time. Black played at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit as the pianist five days a week and at Murphy’s Place in Toledo. The 80-year-old also played with Aretha Franklin in the 1960s when she joined Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement. Most recently, he taught at the University of Toledo.
“He was a special type of guy and a very fine teacher. He taught me many of the chords that are with me today,” said Clifford Murphy.
Murphy, who knew Black since the late 1940s, remembered him as an honest friend.
“When I played the wrong chord, he would speak out loud and let me know. Once it was on television,” Murphy said with a chuckle.
Black specialized 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 during a Jan. 2012 interview.
Black’s daughter Darlene Bryant said she and her father became close when he fell ill.
“We got really close. We could talk about anything. It didn’t make a difference what it was,” she said.
“As a musician, he gave from his heart when he played … as a person, he was kind of more or less to himself. [He was a] quiet type, laidback person.”
Bryant added that in addition the UT jazz community, “I want to thank the Hospice of Northwest Ohio for the very, very, very wonderful care they gave my father and I would like for [the public] to keep his music in their heads and in their hearts.”
Gunnar Mossblad, director of jazz studies at UT, knew Black for about 10 years. He said of his friend, “He’s one of the grandmasters of late swing, early bebop playing and he was a very giving person. He really cared about everyone.”
He said Black loved his students and they loved him back. In a January 2012 interview, Black said, “Coming to UT has been one of the highlights of my career. I now can share my experiences with the students.”
The UT jazz community organized a benefit concert to help pay Black’s bills after he entered the hospital in December 2011 with failing kidneys, high blood pressure and the return of cancer.
“He led a good life and in his last year in particular, he was made aware of how many people cared about him,” Mossblad said. “Quite honestly, I think it gave him one tremendously valuable year.”
“We had some great last talks and had difficult talks for all of us, his family and his really close friends that were kind of there in support.”
Black was able to play in the UT Jazz Holiday Concert toward the end of 2012.
“We were very fortunate to have received his music one last time at the holiday concert,” Mossblad said. “We were so lucky to be able to hear him play one more time.”
He added, “I betcha there is one heck of a good jam session going on in heaven.”
Black is preceded in death by his parents and two children. He is survived by seven children and 18 grandchildren in addition to great grandchildren.
A memorial is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 4 at Ramada Hotel & Conference Center, 3536 Secor Road. It will feature an open stage and musical equipment to encourage sharing of memories.