Feed your ears
Harking back to the best of classic jazz while satisfying newcomers to the genre is a difficult trick, but trumpeter Roy Hargrove doesn’t seem to be struggling.
“For me there’s no merit in just seeking to produce music that is simply different or new,” says trumpeter Roy Hargrove, “it has to have character, heart and integrity.”
With his latest album, Earfood, Hargrove has defined the current state of the art that’s come to be known as modern jazz. It’s an album that manages the not always easy trick of appealing – by its sheer musical attractiveness – to an audience who might not readily accept the sounds created by trumpet, saxophone, piano, bass and drums as their thing and yet satisfies, even enraptures, the committed jazz listener.
This was exactly what Hargrove set out to do. In his liner notes to the CD, the cover star of this year’s Edinburgh International Jazz & Blues Festival brochure, states that Earfood was made specifically to bring sonic pleasure to those who hear it. Well, all CDs should do this, you might argue, but with the almost choir-like approach of Hargrove’s quintet, a group of musicians who have honed their collective skills in concerts racking up thousands upon thousands of road and air miles, Hargrove’s intentions ring true.
Hargrove grew up in Waco, Texas and inspired by the gospel music he heard in church on Sundays and the R&B and funk music that was playing on the radio at home, he took up trumpet while still at primary school. Initially he played on a borrowed cornet but made such progress that he was swiftly given his own instrument and by the age of sixteen, already playing to an advanced level, he was studying music at Dallas’s prestigious Booker T. Washington School for the Visual and Performing Arts.
His life changed forever one day when star jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis made an unannounced visit to Hargrove’s school, heard the by now eighteen-year-old play and immediately arranged special studies for him. Marsalis also put Hargrove in touch with manager-record producer Larry Clothier, who guided Hargrove through early work with leading musicians including Bobby Watson and Clifford Jordan, and, with the trumpeter’s studies at Berklee School of Music completed, oversaw his signing to the mighty RCA Records’ Nova jazz label.
Hargrove’s recordings for Nova, and more recently the classic jazz label Verve, have always been concerned with making music that’s fresh and yet has a rich sense of jazz history. “I’ve had the privilege to record with masters, including Joe Henderson and Stanley Turrentine, musicians who are no longer with us, sadly, but who helped to shape this music and continue to be an inspiration,” he says.
“The perfect blend is to incorporate the vital elements of the great jazz tradition, which has been built up over more than a century, with innovative and adventurous contemporary ideas.”
Earfood is that perfect blend but Hargrove, who turns forty later this year, has no intention of resting on his laurels. “You’re never finished learning or improving as a musician,” he says, “and that’s no bad thing because knowing that keeps you working, keeps your music vital and keeps you striving to communicate with people through a medium that allows us to be way more eloquent with notes than we might be with words.”
Roy Hargrove Quintet, Queens Hall, 31 July 8.30pm From £16 0131 473 2000
If you like this, try Ryan Kisor Quintet at Voodoo Rooms, 2 August