Roy Hargrove: Performer, Composer, and Jazz Educator

On July 15th I was lucky enough to catch Roy Hargrove at the famous New Morning jazz club in Paris, a venue he passes through almost every year. He’s one of my heroes when it comes to trumpet playing and music in general: not only has he worked across genres from jazz masters like Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis to hip hop legend D’Angelo, but he talks, thinks, and teaches about music in a way that’s almost philosophical. He’s also a very fun musician, balancing out his serious technical skills with dancing on stage, jokes in interviews, and experimenting with strange sounds and sound effects. So as a follow-up to the performance, I dug into the archive to see what I could find on him.

As someone who’s very good about allowing videos of his concert performances on YouTube, it was refreshing to find tapes on the maybe lesser-known aspects of Roy’s career, from his earlier days. The four tapes I could find portrayed him in four very different contexts: number 19 as a leader of his own big band in 1995; 112, as a guest and performer at what would have been Dizzy Gillespie’s 81st birthday party, where we see his interview right before he goes on stage; 119, showing a young Hargrove playing with an old Joe Henderson and talking a bit about the legend; and 325, the full concert of Roy when he appeared with The NHOP Quintet at Jazz Baltica in 1996. And across these tapes, especially the first three, you really begin to see Roy Hargrove’s importance to the jazz world not only as a performer and composer, but as an educator. Of course many other jazz musicians will preach the significance of passing on what they know, but for Roy the exchange in education emerges quite apparently as a principle he’s held onto his entire life.

Take, for example, tape 19. Roy is leading his big band at the Village Jazz Festival in 1995, when he would have been about 26 years old. He talks about his dream of putting on a full big band, and how he had mentioned it in an interview once. “James Brown noticed and made it happen for me (00:08:15).” The footage cuts to clips of him rehearsing the group, directing them and playing with his trumpet pointed towards them, while he talks about the differences between leading big band and quintet. “It’s an extreme task of leadership,” he explains. Watching his conducting in the rehearsals and hearing the reverence in his tone when he talks about leadership and Brown helping make his dream come true, you understand that for Roy this is about more than taking the stage with a group of his own. He actually wants to offer something of himself to the lineage of big band music in jazz, to future jazz musicians, and he approaches the whole thing with an admirable humility that not every musician has (looking at you, Benny Goodman and Charles Mingus).

Although tape 112 only shows Hargrove’s interview prior to playing at the NYC Blue Note in 1999 for Dizzy’s birthday, the interview itself is telling. The reporter and Roy banter a bit, easily exchanging jokes and talking about horoscopes. Then they move into talking about Dizzy, who would have been 81 years old. “He was definitely down to help a lot of the young musicians coming up, and he had a beautiful spirit. He was also a Libra! [fist pumps] (00:20:00).” The fact that the first thing he says in honor of Dizzy is that he was supportive of upcoming musicians says a lot about what Roy himself is passionate about; he sees bringing up the next generation as a valuable responsibility. And then, I guess, he’s also passionate about his astrological sign ;). He goes on to name his influences, among them Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, and, of course, Dizzy… “So many.” The reporter brings up Kenny Barron and asks for a story about him, and Roy talks about going to listen to him at Bradley’s. “Everytime I hear him I learn so much,” as the footage cuts to a clip of Barron’s trio playing. Worth mentioning that Roy Hargrove will be joining the Kenny Barron Trio this year at Monterey Jazz Festival, which I will be attending (looking forward to it!).

Finally, tape 325 features a full concert of Roy playing with The NHOP Quintet at Jazz Baltica in 1996. I mentioned it earlier, but Roy is really great about hosting full videos of his concerts on YouTube: the video that inspired me to go see him in Paris was his full performance at The New Morning in 2010, and the day after I saw him he already had some video clips of up (check them out on YouTube). These videos are actually so important to young jazz musicians, who watch them over and over trying to learn not just the songs and the sound, but the subtle techniques that can only be learned from a visual performance: which fingerings did they use to play that note? How did they communicate to the other musicians that their solo was ending right there? What were they wearing, how did they carry themselves on stage? Were they rigid, or did they free themselves up more? Roy, in particular, looks a lot more formal and rigid in his earlier performances, as opposed to a couple of weeks ago, where I got to see him dancing on stage in his now classic attire blending jazz and hip hop styles. It helps musicians to see and to know these things, because there is no real guidebook on how to find success in your art. That’s why it’s so valuable when people like Roy Hargrove release content of themselves playing and talking and giving advice, like in the beginning of one of his albums where he talks about the lessons he teaches his current students.

Going to see this trumpeter at this jazz club felt like a sort of pilgrimage to me as a musician, and watching these videos has only enriched my knowledge and added to it. For a longer post on this year’s New Morning concert, check out Muse-Tripper, the blog where I write about where music takes me when I travel. Maybe the full concert will end up in the archive someday!

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