AFP
NEW YORK
Bob Belden , a global-minded saxophonist and arranger who brought a jazz lens to music ranging from chart-topping pop to classical Indian, has died. He was 58.
Blue Note Records, where he recorded his best known works, confirmed his death. He died Wednesday in New York, where he lived, after suffering a heart attack.
Belden in February became the first American musician to perform publicly in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, playing with the government's blessing amid an easing of longstanding tensions between Tehran and Washington. To a warm welcome from the Iranian audience, Belden performed on his soprano saxophone works from masters including Miles Davis.
The concert was backed by Search for Common Ground, a US peace group. Belden spoke glowingly about his interaction with Iranians and said he went in part because he found a lack of challenges on the US and European jazz circuits. "One must understand the limited depth of performance opportunities for jazz musicians now, partly due to overcrowding, a weak social/cultural education system and a performance programming that lacks imagination, especially this generation of younger jazz musicians," he said in an interview with JazzTimes.
"Those in Iran knew we wanted to be there so they actually helped us in every way," he said. Belden was considered an expert on Miles Davis and directed reissues of his works, but also believed that jazz 's spirit required experimentation. In 2008, Belden brought together leading jazz and Indian musicians for "Miles from India," a South Asian-inspired exploration of the work of Davis, who himself had experimented with Indian instrumentation.
The collaboration featured artists ranging from jazz piano great Chick Corea to Indian classical violinist Kala Ramnath. The album was nominated for a Grammy. Belden won three Grammys throughout his career, once for Best Historical Album for Davis' "The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings" and twice for liner notes.
Belden later took a similar approach by teaming up with flamenco and other Spanish musicians for "Miles Espanol (New Sketches of Spain)." Reaching a more popular audience, Belden also led jazz albums of songs by major pop musicians including Sting and Prince.
Belden explained in a 1999 interview that he pursued pop tunes after seeing the reactions of students. "Anytime we played something that was on a pop level, it just went over, no matter if it was abstract," he said. "So I'm thinking, this is a great way to communicate to people you don't think are already converted to your cause," he said.
In one album that became a coveted collector's item, Belden led a jazz version of Puccini's "Turandot." The album's release was blocked, purportedly after objections from the composer's estate, but limited numbers of the Japanese edition still went on sale. Belden 's best-known original work was 2001's "Black Dahlia," a tone poem about the 1947 murder of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, a grisly and murky crime in the Los Angeles that has inspired numerous works of literature.