The pianist was a sought-after performer in the region who also taught jazz voice at the University since 2009. However, his relationship with the department extended back to 2000.
In his role as house pianist for the former Murphy’s Place in downtown Toledo, Black often accompanied Jon Hendricks, UT Distinguished Professor of Jazz, and the student ensembles that played there. He also coached students and mentored them as they cut their musical teeth in a real jazz club and in the Center for Performing Arts, where Black often came to practice.
“During his lifetime, Claude inspired many people, including our students at UT,” said Dr. Timothy Brakel, associate professor and chair of the Music Department. “His final song at the holiday concert was ‘What a Wonderful World.’ This world is a better place because of Claude’s life.”
Black’s lifelong love of music started when he was growing up in Detroit and started playing piano at age 8. He loved bebop.
“My personality seems to come out the best when I’m playing bebop,” Black said in a 2006 interview.
In 1965, the pianist joined Aretha Franklin’s band and toured around the world. He played keys for a long list of jazz luminaries, including Charlie “Bird” Parker, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery and Wynton Marsalis.
For more than four decades, Black and friend Clifford Murphy, bassist, played music together. The two jammed at the former Murphy’s Place for 20 years.
“Schooled in Detroit, Claude ranks among a select company of pianists that includes Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris and Sir Roland Hannah. All are celebrated for their inexhaustible innovation, propulsive rhythms and perceptive chordings,” according to the All About Jazz website.
“Claude, our jazz pianist and friend, has for decades given all of us in the greater Toledo area, and the world, beautiful music and so much of his generous spirit, and I can say without hesitation that he is one of the most caring individuals and wonderful musicians I have ever met and had the honor to make music with,” said Gunnar Mossblad, director of the UT Jazz Studies Program and professor of music.
Black’s family and faculty of the Department of Music will hold a memorial gathering Monday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. at Crystal’s Lounge in the Ramada Inn, 3536 Secor Road. Family, friends and fans are invited to share memories and music at the informal event; instruments welcome.