James Robert Belden, a multifaceted jazz musician and Grammy winner who grew up in Goose Creek, died Wednesday after suffering a heart attack last week, according to Jazz Artists of Charleston. Belden was 58.
He maintained a close connection to the Lowcountry and its musicians after he left the area as a young man. Belden eventually became head of A&R for Blue Note Records and an active performer and arranger.
His record “The Black Dahlia,” an original suite he composed that was based on the 1947 “Black Dahlia” case about the murder of a young actress, earned a Grammy.
Belden’s tastes were wide-ranging, and he liked to push the envelope musically, mixing traditional and avant garde jazz with music from other parts of the world. His 2008 record “Miles From India” took fusion to a new level, combining players from the U.S. and India to perform tunes by Miles Davis. He did something similar in 2011, adding a Spanish flair to Davis’ tunes.
In 2009, Belden was a special guest with the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, leading the band in renditions of his challenging arrangements. He returned in 2011 with his own band Animation to play Davis tunes as part of Jazz Artists of Charleston’s spring series.
In February this year, Belden took his New York-based band Animation to Iran for an unusual concert at the Tehran Opera House, an experience he shared with The Post and Courier soon after.
Belden, a jazz insider who wrote liner notes and delved deeply into the history and practice of jazz, was widely respected by fellow musicians.
Leah Suarez, a local singer and director of Jazz Artists of Charleston, said Belden was a mentor, colleague, advisor and friend.
“Bob was one of the most creative, imaginative, and sincerest artists I have had the pleasure of ever knowing,” Suarez said. “His involvement and constant nurturing of Charleston’s jazz community is only a sliver of his legacy, but one that was a priority in his heart. He always made time for his Charleston jazz family.”