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Meet Roy Hargrove

By Published: August 15, 2007

RH: I'm an observer, in a way. I notice that there a certain jazz musicians who lock themselves down saying, ?OK this style of music is valid, but that isn't valid.? I don't buy into that. There is validity in every style of music, whether it is country and western, or classical, or jazz, or hip hop, Latin music because it's all so beautiful. One of the things I can be thankful for is having been able to go to a school. . . Like when I was in high school, I went to a performing arts school. There, I really learned a lot about culture and the different ways you go into music. That was the first time I learned about that cat John Cage, the composer. His theory was that everything is music, even silence. One of the pieces he did was called "Five Minutes of Silence" where he'd sit down at the piano and just turn the pages! [laughs] And then there were pieces that we would play as ensembles where he would have us doing things like blow air through the mouthpiece or clap our hands or stomp our feet a certain way, or make a buzzing sound through the mouthpiece. And he would notate that. So this opened my eyes to different concepts of music. But most of my training in improvisation was informal because my first experience in learning how to improvise was in the fifth grade. The first time I saw somebody improvise was when I was in the fourth grade, and that's what made me want to join the band. They were young, nine or ten year old kids, and they were learning how to get up and take solos!

AAJ: This was at your elementary school?

RH: Yeah. The band director was a drummer by the name of Dean Hill. He had been out on the road with Roberta Flack, and people like that. A very gifted teacher. I recognize, after years of learning with him, his extreme ability to bring stuff out of the kids. When I saw him working with that band of kids, and I saw those kids getting up and soloing. I was like, "yeah, I want to be a part of that." So I started on the coronet, and about a year later, I got my first solo. One of the first tunes I learned was "Centerpiece" by Harry "Sweets" Edison. The way it went down was, he took me into the office, he'd sit down and play a little groove on the piano. He'd show me a couple of phrases based on the blues. I'd learn the notes, go home and practice. And when it came time to perform, he would be standing next to you, cheering you on to make you play with emotion. This was the foundation of my learning how to play with as much emotion as possible. At that time I didn't know that much about the trumpet, or the mechanics of playing. But I knew that whatever it was that I played, I was gonna mean every sentence, even if I was gonna play like four notes.

AAJ: That there sounds like your informal training—learning how to express meaning in your solos.

RH: That's a very important part of music for me. You know, that feeling that you get when you hear someone play and their sound gets you right there. You can't help but either move something or shout. That's always been a very important part of the music for me. Don't get me wrong. I also believe that you have to practice and you have to have a certain amount of dexterity on the instrument, too. Because, that's what allows you to be able to communicate your ideas. In order to be a great musician you have to have a marriage of the two. If you want to be a great jazz musician, you have to have a marriage of both dexterity and feeling.

AAJ: So how do you think formal training affects jazz musicians and jazz music?

RH: I think that this can help you. Any type of education, as far as music is concerned, is helpful. For a creative musician it can only help you, not hurt you. But I think it's dangerous to fall into bags. I've met cats who were formally trained and had fallen into bags. They say "OK, I'm only going to play Bird's music, or I'm only going to play Coltrane's music." That's one thing that formal education does to you, but it's just a phase you go through. You have your heroes that you emulate and then eventually you put them all in a funnel and create your own style. There are people that I've tried to emulate, like Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, Freddie Hubbard, and Woody Shaw. As I continue on down the path of learning more and more about music, my style will develop and people will know me when they hear me. That's something that I am working towards.

AAJ: When people are learning their instrument, and they hear something in another musician that excites them, they try to copy it. But eventually, the creative musician no longer tries to copy others and those influences become absorbed.

RH: Yeah, exactly.

AAJ: So, what was it about Fats Navarro, or Clifford Brown that really excited you when you first heard their music?

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