Roy Campbell 101: From Where He Came
“ [Campbell] has been an incessantly curious musician for most of his 50-plus years and this informs everything he does in music and life. ”
Campbell likes to keep his fingers in a lot of pies and often performs with several different ensembles within the span of a few days, as he will be doing at the 10th annual Vision Festival this month. He has been an incessantly curious musician for most of his 50-plus years and this informs everything he does in music and life. Although Campbell considers himself a traditionalist, musically anything goes.
On his solo from the title track on Ethnic Stew and Brew (2001), evidence of Roy's free spirit and his virtuosity can be found in abundance. As he aims to do when soloing, this one takes you on an excursion. It is simply fearless, emotional and powerful. One of the first solos that taught him the importance of getting listeners on board was Kenny Dorham's slick improvisation on "Soft Winds from Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers' At The Cafe Bohemia, Vol. 1. He still marvels at Dorham's knack for playing the right notes at the right time and probably has this in the back of his mind regardless of how free the music gets.
By age six Campbell started classical piano lessons while in the midst of intense listening to recordings by Charlie Parker (Charlie Parker With Strings was an early influence), Dizzy, Ella and later Jackie McLean and Dexter Gordon (on Dexter Calling, 1961). Campbell was also being influenced by soundtracks to films such as Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves, where he got a taste of Arabic music; the Zorro films of the '30s and '40s, where he heard boleros and other Latin styles; and Tarzan films where he heard some semblance of African music.
He continued listening to disparate styles such as flamenco and what he calls "pork chop and barbecue music by artists such as "Groove Holmes and the late Jimmy Smith. He later got into Coltrane and Albert Ayler, although he remained partial to Hank Mobley, especially the Blue Note album Dippin' (1965), featuring Lee Morgan and Billy Higgins.
As a kid of the '60s growing up in the Wakefield section of the Bronx, where he still lives, Campbell started digging rock, R&B, Motown and James Brown. Particularly Grits & Soul (1964) and James Brown Plays James Brown: Today and Yesterday (1966), on which he heard Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder and Horace Silver's "Song For My Father . This led him to seek out the composers' versions of these tunes, which he found to be far superior. The influence of Morgan grew stronger, peaking when he met the trumpeter at The Bronxwood Inn at age 15.
At this club, and at two other neighborhood clubs - Mother Blues and The Monterey - Campbell also remembers hearing Woody Shaw, Art Blakey, Blue Mitchell, Stanley Turrentine, Jimmy Heath, Milt Jackson and Lou Donaldson. In the mid '60s, Campbell had worked summers as an usher for concerts produced on Randalls Island and had the golden opportunity to hear Monk, Ellington, Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Cannonball Adderley. "In the '60s you could see the whole period of jazz, said Campbell.
The trumpeter heard drummer Sunny Murray around '67 play at Carnegie Hall with Byard Lancaster, after which he bought several of the drummer's records and also recordings from saxophonist Frank Wright which fascinated Campbell because he has perfect pitch and could hear what was happening harmonically. "It wasn't predictable, they weren't following the mainstream chord progressions, I found it very interesting, was his instinctual reaction.
All of these varied influences coalesced inside his mind and soul and fueled his desire to play music that spontaneously blends styles and genres, freely abandoning convention but not completely. By '70, at age 17, it was decided that he could no longer just listen, he had to play.