Edinburgh Jazz Festival headliner Keyon Harrold might be a musical star, but his message goes deeper than just jazz as he uses music as a platform to spread social awareness.
Rolling Stone magazine named Keyon Harrold as one of the ten new artists who readers needed to know about in 2017.
Wynton Marsalis described him as “the future of the trumpet.” And when film director Don Cheadle was looking for someone to embody the musical voice of jazz legend Miles Davis in his Grammy-winning Davis biopic, Miles Ahead, he turned to Keyon Harrold.
But jazz is only part of Harrold’s story.
Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson and Radiohead all made an impression as his musical tastes formed. And his wide experience since becoming a professional musician includes tours and recordings with Beyonce, Mary J Blige, Erykah Badu, Rihanna and Jay-Z as well as jazz players such as his mentor, trumpeter Charles Tolliver and organist Dr Lonnie Smith.
Having grown up with nine siblings in a musical family, Harrold has early memories of his grandfather leading a drum and bugle corps, where Harrold later learned to play trumpet,
and of watching his sisters bringing the house down with their singing at church functions. His older brothers all played musical instruments and he couldn’t wait to follow in their footsteps.
“Being around so many good singers and musicians at home kept me on my toes”, he says. “It also taught me the importance of teamwork in music. But just to be on a par with my siblings I needed to work extra hard on my playing.”“Don said that what I’d brought to the soundtrack was the work of a magician and that morphed into mugician.”Click To Tweet
He was rewarded for this by winning a much-coveted place on the Mannes Jazz Program at The New School in New York where he met the now hugely influential pianist and producer Robert Glasper.
Glasper encouraged Harrold to concentrate more on his own music after the trumpeter had spent almost ten years working as a hired hand to the famous. He also guested on the resulting album, The Mugician, released last year.
“The Mugician came from a conversation I had with Don Cheadle after we’d finished work on Miles Ahead,” says Harrold.
“Don said that what I’d brought to the soundtrack was the work of a magician and that morphed into mugician.”
An amalgam of funk, jazz, hip-hop and pop, The Mugician has been enthusiastically received and will form the basis of Harrold’s Edinburgh set-list where the most important element will be, he says, “music that comes from the heart.”
A native of Ferguson, Missouri – which came to international attention after a young black man, Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white policeman in August 2014 – Harrold acknowledges the compliments paid to him. However, while he’s honoured to be chosen as this year’s Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival brochure cover star, if he had his way, the word jazz wouldn’t feature alongside his name.
“Obviously we need marketing terms to help package things,” he says. “But the idea of what my music is can’t be reduced to a four letter word.” Harrold, whose music is inspired by everything that’s going on around him, including the Michael Brown shooting, would rather be called a ‘social music activist’ than a jazz musician.
“As a musician, I have a platform to say something to people who may not realize that racism is still a problem or that injustice is still a problem,” he says of his music’s political content. “At the same time I don’t like to purposefully go over somebody’s head.
I want anything I do to be singable.”
WHERE & WHEN
Keyon Harrold, George Square Spiegeltent, 14 July, 7.30pm, £20.50