Noted Jazz Musician Bob Belden Dies

Bob Belden, a Grammy-winning jazz musician, composer, arranger and producer who was the first American musician to perform in Iran since its 1979 revolution when he toured there earlier this year, died Wednesday. He was 58.

Belden died at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan after suffering a heart attack in his apartment, his sister Elizabeth Belden Harmstone said. She described her brother as a pioneer and a “jazz musician true and true.”

Photo: AP Photo / Vahid Salemi
Iranian Fajr International Music Festival, Vahdat Hall, Tehran, Iran

In February, Belden and his group, Animation, went on a four-day tour of Iran, performing tunes by Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Belden’s own compositions. The visit, which came as Tehran and Washington engaged in nuclear talks, was arranged by Search for Common Ground, a U.S. nonprofit organization that aims to promote better ties between the long-time rivals.

“You have made our dream come true,” Belden told a Tehran audience, according to a New York Times report. “Visiting Iran has been such a human experience.”

Belden was known for conceiving and producing multi-artist thematic albums, including Miles From India, on which Indian and American musicians performed Miles Davis tunes, that received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 2009. He followed that up with Miles Espanol which matched alumni of Davis’ band such as Chick Corea and Ron Carter with Spanish musicians.

Considered one of the leading experts on Davis, Belden won three Grammys (Best Historical Album, Best Album Notes) for his work in the 1990s on boxed sets of the trumpeter’s work for SONY/Columbia.

A saxophonist, Belden mixed electronica influences and jazz on the Grammy-nominated albums, Animation/Imagination and Re-Animation: LIVE! with trumpeter Tim Hagans.

Belden, an adventurous arranger, also released a series of albums that turned the music of Puccini, Prince, Sting, Carole King and the Beatles into jazz.

One of his most popular releases was the 2001 Blue Note album Black Dahlia, an orchestral suite inspired by a notorious 1947 case involving the murder of a young actress.

Belden, who grew up in South Carolina, settled in New York in the early 1980s after graduating from North Texas State University and touring with Woody Herman’s big band.

He worked with trumpeters Donald Byrd and Red Rodney, and also worked extensively in the studio scoring TV and film productions.

He made his recording debut as a leader with the 1989 album Treasure Island on the Sunnyside label. He then released a series of albums for Blue Note, also serving as the label’s director of A&R in the late ‘90s.