Friday, 18 January 2013
The Arts Commission's Interview with Claude Black, Jazz Pianist and Professor at University of Toledo
Claude Black was born in Detroit, Michigan. He was introduced to the Toledo area by his grandmother in 1949, when she brought him to her church. He has been very involved with the Detroit jazz scene as well as Toledo’s for decades, and has worked with countless jazz and soul treasures, including Aretha Franklin, and Tommy Flannigan (Ella Fitzgerald’s pianist). Claude and Tommy together attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit for its reputation in music education and were great friends growing up.
How long have you been playing jazz? I began taking piano lessons at the age of 8, I am now 78! Jazz has surrounded my entire life. For instance, we always had two pianos in the house. My mother went to all the Detroit nightclubs, and brought me and my baby sister along with her. My grandmother played in the church, and my uncle was in a band as well. I first sat down to the piano as a small boy, and I went to Cass Technical High School specifically because it was renowned for its musical education.
What do you do when you’re “off the clock?” When I am not sleeping, I am practicing, performing or teaching full-time. I am never not doing jazz.
To you, what does it mean to be an artist? To be involved and sincere in whatever you do. It requires the better part of your life, and you must be dedicated. For me, I must practice everyday in order to keep my thoughts flowing; you can have thoughts and ideas, but if you don’t have a way of expressing them, what’s their use? Music is a way for me to illustrate my thoughts, past and experiences—a musical picture to tell my story. I see being a musician as a role assigned to me by the Lord; I am here to provide a service to others, something for people to enjoy in times of joy and in times of struggle.
Black performed alongside Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King on a tour during the Civil Rights Movement, a tour which received a dramatic clash between support and harassment (Klinger).
Where do you turn to keep the inspiration flowing? Practicing daily. Keep going, keep thinking, keep flowing. Also, it is important for me to surround myself with those who inspire me, such as Detroit’s Marcus Belgrave and Toledo’s Gene Parker. Roosevelt T. Hatcher was another long-time inspiration and great friend of mine. I once made a list of people who inspire me, I lost it, but as I recall, it filled the entire page.
One struggle many local artists are facing now is that they have the ability to produce great art, but are unable to make a living off of it. What advice could you give an artist struggling in this way? That is a difficult question for me to answer because I sincerely do not understand why our economy is such a mess. The best advice I can give, especially for young artists, is to get as much education as you possibly can. Stay in school as long as you can. That way, you will be equipped with the best skills you can possess and you will be enabling yourself to shoot for the top. Your passion and dedication to your art must also be strong enough to go up against such a challenge. Keep practicing and keep working.
Looking back, what would you do differently? The path I chose granted me experiences I would never trade for the world. However, despite my honorary degree, I would like to have received a better education, in music as well as in anything else I could.
What advice would you have for an artist looking to gain recognition in the community, in the region, in the nation, etc? It all adds up to hard work, dedication, and the will to never give up.
Claude is in the process of writing a book of memoirs, detailing his amazing life as a musician. Check back in the future for more information.
He teamed up with saxophonist Ernie Krivda, and served as accompaniment for his DVD Blues for Pekar, which was released in June 2011 by Capri Records, Ltd.
Black performs Moment’s Notice by John Coltrane http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kN8vEgHG8r0
Black, Claude. Phone interview. 25 July 2011.
Klinger, Eric. "Claude Black: Memories Of Music And MLK From A Local Jazz Legend." The Mirror Newspaper 2005. Web. 25 July 2011.
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