SEMJA’s Ron Brooks Award to Marion Hayden

Detroit bassist, bandleader, and educator Marion Hayden has been chosen as this year’s winner of the Ron Brooks Award from SEMJA. On hearing the news that she had received this award, she was delighted since Ron Brooks was one of her heroes and a fellow bass player. The award is given to area musicians who have contributed to the Detroit jazz community.

Hayden has been active on the Detroit jazz scene since the age of 15, early on she was mentored by trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and saxophonist Wendell Harrison and later by pianists Teddy Harris Jr., Kenn Cox, Charles Boles, and Buddy Budson, and drummer Roy Brooks. She has paid forward by in turn mentoring the next generations of jazz players.

The award will be given to Hayden at the Michigan Jazz Festival Father’s Day Brunch at Schoolcraft College on June 19. Hayden will perform at the event with Straight Ahead at noon until 2:30 p.m. Other members of the group will be violist Leslie DeShazor, pianist Alina Morr, drummer Gayelynne McKinney, and vocalist Kymberli Wright. Tickets for the event can be purchased at

In a recent interview Hayden revealed some interesting information about the history of Straight Ahead. The group was founded in 1989 by vocalist Miche Braden who soon departed for New York for a theater career. Once Braden left, the group worked largely as a collective. The Montreux Jazz Festival invited the group to Switzerland in 1990. Initially they were to play a minor role at the large international festival, but after hearing them rehearse it was decided that they should open on the main stage for Nina Simone. Their performance was filmed and got the attention of the international jazz press at the festival. Claude Nobs, who was founder and manager of the festival, invited the group to his chalet overlooking Lake Geneva.

The video of Straight Ahead at Montreux had very high production values and was crucial in the chain of events leading to the group’s recording contract with Atlantic Records. Motown’s Sylvia Moy facilitated the contract after contacting her industry affiliations. Straight Ahead recorded a total of three albums for Atlantic.

The Ron Brooks Award is given annually to Detroit musicians, educators, or broadcasters, who have made significant contributions to the Detroit jazz community. Previous awardees include Ernie Rodgers, Louis Smith, George Benson, Kenn Cox, Matt Michaels, Bess Bonnier, Ed Love and Hazen Schumacher.