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Detroit Jazz Community Turns Out For Malvin McCray Memorial


The Cantrell Funeral Home on Detroit’s East Side was packed the morning of March 16th for the memorial service for saxophonist Malvin McCray. McCray, 71, died on March 9 from pancreatic cancer.

Born in Helena, Arkansas, on November 11, 1930, Malvin came north with his parents while a child. He excelled at sports (especially baseball and basketball) and music. He came up during the golden age of Detroit jazz and sat in at the West End and the Blue Bird Inn. Malvin grew up with many notable musicians, including saxophonists Donald Walden and Sonny Red, two of his closest friends.

McCray was a stalwart on the Detroit jazz scene for many years. He was a friend and confidante of Teddy Harris, Jr., and was an integral part of his New Breed Be-Bop Society Orchestra as a soloist and ensemble player.

Malvin was a hipster. He had lived in New York City for many years and carried the air of one who had tackled the Big Apple and prospered. I remember one year at the Montreux-Detroit festival I was waiting to interview Malvin after his performance. As he left the stage, I asked him if he had a few minutes to spare. “I don’t know,” he said, striking a hip pose as he looked at his watch. “Let me check my schedule here,” pulling a piece of paper from his sport jacket pocket. “I think I can give you five minutes,” he said, scanning the paper and laughing. Malvin was a man of few words but every one counted. He was as straightforward and honest as a Charlie Parker solo, and just as soulful.

Following the memorial service, everyone relocated to Bert Dearing’s new spot at 1315 Broadway for a jam session that lasted all afternoon. The fellowship, laughter and wonderful sounds were testimony to Malvin’s standing in the community, and his family was deeply touched. It was a beautiful, bittersweet day.

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