Jun 4, 2015
A conversation with Bob Belden can often come across much the same way as his music – “unrelenting, unforgiving, taking no prisoners.” At least that’s how Belden describes the sounds he and his group Animation played on their recent visit to Iran. That auspicious trip – two years in the planning – came in mid-February, and marked the first American musician to play Iran since the country's 1979 revolution set a former US ally on a political and military collision course with Washington and other capitals across the world.
Regrettably, this would prove to be Bob's final interview, and our final chance to talk. He was foubd dead of a heart attack in his New York City apartment just a few short days later. We are all a little less jazzy for his loss.
Belden, he is quick to point out in our talk, was no politician (he heldthem in very low regard) and no celebrity in the 21st century sense, even in the jazz world. While Belden earned his stripes as a Grammy-winning saxophonist, arranger, composer, bandleader, producer and essayist, he was hardly spoken of in the same way that say, Wynton Marsalis or Joshua Redman are mentioned, despite his equally ambitious projects, on and off the bandstand.
So perhaps it was inevitable then that a musician like Bob, refusing to take no for an answer and working outside of “the jazz establishment,” would be the one who would bring Jazz to Iran during this period of thawing relations between our countries. The resulting visit by Belden and Animation featured a performance of the traditional Iranian anthem at the United World Wrestling Greco-Roman World Cup in Tehran; a visit to a music school in the city of Isfahan (Ellington and Strayhorn would approve!) and culminated in a sold-out show at Tehran's Vahdat concert hall as part of the Fajr International Music Festival.
Podcast 482 is our conversation about that trip, featuring his very strong opinions on politics, culture and the jazz world. The tune that Bob and his band - drummer Matt Young, bass player Jerome Parker Wells, trumpeter Pete Clagett and keyboard player Roberto Veraspegui – opened their set with at Vahdat, “Urbanoia” from Transparent Heart, is featured as well.
Consider this Part One of my conversation, as the rest will appear in a podcast when Animation’s new CD is released in early summer. Rest in peace my friend, and take your place writing arrangements for the celestial big band.