Reflecting on a Night of Jazz: The 22nd Anniversary of the Jazz Network Foundation

Detroit, MI: Ten years ago, in 2013, the Jazz Network Foundation marked its 22nd anniversary with a spectacular celebration, “Back to the SereNgeti”. A special highlight of the event was the performance by the renowned Marcus Belgrave, whose trumpet sang through the halls of the Carr Center, weaving a tapestry of sound that captivated every attendee.

The SereNgeti Quartet and Winard Harper

The SereNgeti Quartet, with jazz percussionist Winard Harper (percussion), Ralph Armstrong (bass) and Marcus Elliot (saxophone), graced the stage with performances that paid homage to the rich jazz traditions of Detroit. The event, supported by the Knight Foundation, was not just an anniversary; it was a testament to the enduring vibrancy of jazz in Detroit.

Marcus Belgrave: A Performance to Remember

Although Marcus Belgrave was very much alive at the time, his performance at the event is now remembered with a deep sense of reverence. As a virtuoso who had played with a constellation of stars from Ray Charles to Ella Fitzgerald, Belgrave’s contribution to the celebration was a momentous occasion, now cherished in memory following his passing in 2015.

A Decade Later: The Legacy Continues

Today, as we look back a decade later at that memorable evening, we celebrate not just the anniversary of the Jazz Network Foundation, but also the remarkable legacy left by Marcus Belgrave. His spirit continues to inspire and influence musicians and jazz lovers alike, ensuring that the rhythm he so loved keeps beating at the heart of Detroit’s cultural scene.

The 22nd Anniversary of the Jazz Network Foundation was more than an event; it was a milestone in a journey of musical excellence and passion—a journey that continues to resonate through the city’s vibrant jazz community.

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Bill Foster: Jazz Hero

Bill Foster, Detroit’s 2014 Jazz Hero, has been a strong advocate of the city’s arts for almost 60 years, promoting jazz all the while, and is currently working towards Detroit’s revitalization. Most of his efforts have been facilitated through The Jazz Network Foundation, a non-profit organization which he founded in 1992, and through which he has presented numerous concerts, workshops, art shows, dance performances, poetry and plays.

Raised and educated in Detroit, Bill promoted his first concert in 1956. It was headlined by pianist Harold McKinney and drummer Roy Brooks, and featured in Jet magazine. Moving to Cleveland, Ohio in the early 1960s, Bill promoted local artists as well as nationally touring acts there, also hosting a live jazz radio show on WCUY-FM and program of recorded jazz on WERE-FM. Returning to Detroit in the 1970s, Bill continued to work with artists representing his passion — a brief list of those who have performed under his auspices includes Dwight Adams, Bill Banfield, Marcus Belgrave, Ben’s Friends Big Band, Ron Blake, George Bohanon, Buddy Budson, Oscar Brown Jr., James Carter, Kenn Cox, Tommy Flanagan, FRA FRA Sound, Charlie Gabriel, Roy Hargrove, Winard Harper, Dr. Teddy Harris, Bob Hurst, Milt Jackson, Sean Jones, Eugene Maslov, Mulgrew Miller, Steve Nelson, Johnny O’Neal, Michael Rabinowitz, Kareem Riggins, Vanessa Rubin, Straight Ahead, Donald Walden, Ursula Walker, Michael Wolff, Rodney Whitaker, Lenny White and Buster Williams.

Bill developed and established venues such as the SereNgeti Ballroom and also the SereNgeti Galleries to showcase local, national and international artists. The Balloom hosted “Thursday Night Jam Sessions” and youth development programs hosted by Harold McKinney; the Galleries became home to the National Jazz Orchestra (which Bill directed, and which performed at the Detroit Jazz Festival for four consecutive years), as well as the Youth in Music Program and several African dance troupes. It served as a community cultural center that specialized in exhibiting African and Haitian artwork. “It’s a great concept; you can come to an art exhibit that turns into a jazz concert or a jazz concert that turns into an art exhibit,” he says.

Bill’s efforts have not gone unnoticed: he was honored by the Detroit Jazz Festival as a recipient of its Jazz Guardian Award in 2007 and in September, 2013 received the Spirit of Detroit Award from the City of Detroit as well as a Knight Foundation Arts Challenge award. His concept for the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge is Jazz-Off Detroit, which will assemble two jazz ensembles through performance competitions, one consisting of musicians 30 years of age or older and the other of musicians under 30. The JJA’s Jazz Hero Award is not, of course, tied to any age requirement or restriction — it just asserts that Bill Foster deserves applause as an activist, advocate, altruist, aider and abettor of jazz.

-Viva C. Foster

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The transformative power of arts education

The transformative power of arts education is a core belief at the Jazz Network Foundation, where we understand that the arts are not a luxury but a necessity for the holistic development of individuals and communities. Masterclasses, a cornerstone of our educational outreach, provide an invaluable space for burgeoning talent to interact with seasoned artists, offering a conduit for the transmission of skills, traditions, and the intangible nuances of jazz.

The immersive experience of a masterclass goes beyond conventional learning; it is an intimate exchange where students absorb the subtle artistry and the profound cultural heritage of jazz. These interactions are vital for keeping the art form alive, ensuring that jazz continues to evolve while retaining its roots. For Detroit, a city with a storied musical legacy, such educational initiatives are critical for nurturing the next generation of musicians who will carry the torch of the city’s rich jazz heritage.

The Jazz Network Foundation, through its masterclasses and educational programs, is committed to advocating for arts education. We believe in empowering individuals through the arts, fostering a vibrant cultural scene, and contributing to the socio-economic vitality of Detroit. The arts are not just for creating artists; they are essential for creating a well-rounded, culturally aware society.

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