Longtime music afficiando, Cortlandt ‘C.S.’ Belton II, dies

Cortlandt “C.S.” Belton II, the son a famed jazz musician and a talented musician and music instructor in his own right, died recently at the age of 93.

Belton, who died Saturday, was a U.S. Navy veteran known in Putnam, Flagler, Marion, Volusia and Walton counties – and even in Georgia – as an accomplished music teacher. 

Abe Alexander, a retired Putnam music teacher and Belton’s friend, said Belton was a man of monstrous talent, but no one would know it simply by his demeanor. 

“He was not a bragging type of musician,” Abe Alexander said. “He allowed his skills to do the bragging. Some of the things he would play on the keyboard would surprise the heck out of you.”

Belton’s musical aptitude wasn’t a thing of luck; he was born into it. 

Belton’s father, C.S. Belton Sr., was a nationally renowned musician who created Belton’s Society Syncopators, a jazz group that performed throughout the nation – and numerous times in Palatka.

The younger Belton was exposed to jazz greats who were his father’s colleagues and friends, including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and others. 

Following in his own footsteps when he was older, Belton created his own band consisting of local friends. 

Abe Alexander said despite Belton’s family’s notoriety and local band, he remembers Belton as a humble individual with whom he would play and arrange music and discuss teaching music to kids. 

“He was a heck of a piano player. He played jazz,” he said. “He was a piano player more or less into syncopated music – more like jazz. I was a piano player more or less into rhythm and blues.

“Sometimes, we would get together, and he would demonstrate his skills and I would demonstrate my skills.”

John Alexander, another former music teacher, met Belton only a few years ago, when he interview Belton for a Harlem Nights in Palatka mural planned to honor his father. 

The president of the Conlee-Snyder Mural Committee, John Alexander joined Belton and other members of the Belton family when the mural was unveiled in June 2014. 

During his talks with Belton, John Alexander said, Belton – who was partially paralyzed because of a stroke – still played music, most notably a song he hadn’t completed but one day wanted to make public. 

Belton also displayed rich pieces of history most people wouldn’t think were all that special, he said. 

“He would point to a bedroom and say, ‘This is where Louis Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald dressed before the shows,’” John Alexander said, pointing out those and other jazz musicians performed in Palatka. 

“With only a few fingers in use in his right hand, he played (his song) for me. I could see and hear the beauty in that piece, even though he had trouble playing it.”

John Alexander said he is eternally grateful he was able to converse with someone with such a large wealth of jazz and historical knowledge. 

“I didn’t know what to expect when I went to talk to him, because I heard he was a man of a few words,” John Alexander said. “I was just glad that I had the opportunity … meet someone local who had that knowledge, even though he was young (when he met jazz greats). And he was able to share that. I felt I was talking to someone famous.”