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Meet Roy Hargrove

By Published: August 15, 2007

RH: Well, when I heard Clifford for the first time, it was his sound that really got me. Just the warmth of it and the voice that he had. At first, I was like, "Is that really a trumpet? Is that a trumpet?" Because all of the experience that I'd had with the trumpet sound were like loud and high. I was used to loud, very brassy sounds. I heard Clifford playing and all I heard were sweet tones, man. I was just like, "Wow, I didn't know the trumpet could do that." He had stretched beyond the boundaries of the instrument. He was a complete musician. Now this is something that I strive for. But the cat that really turned me around when I heard him was Freddie Hubbard. To me, he embodied the same classic style of people like Clifford, "Fat Girl" [Fats Navarro], and Lee Morgan with contemporary sounds, too. Freddie would play some funk and still be intellectual at the same time. He had so much in his sound and emotion. To hear him play a ballad, I'd melt when I listened to that.

AAJ: He's on the cusp between the classic fifties trumpets and the modern players of the sixties and seventies.

RH: Yeah, he was around in the sixties when cats were expressing a lot of anger in their music, too, based on the political situation here. And that was a different side of the music. A lot of the older musicians talk about Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor and how they took it out. To me, that era is also a very important part of the development of the music. They were going beyond the structural patterns that had molded and shaped the music for so many years. That's something to be learned from. I have yet to do a project where I could experiment with that. The one time I got the chance to do that was when I was still very young. I didn't know anything about that whole era. I was at a gig at a museum in Dallas, Texas with a cat named Dennis Gonzalez. He was a trumpet player, a local. I don't think he ever left Dallas, but he had his own record label. He was also working at the jazz radio station down there, KERA. I remember going to his house and rehearsing with him. He had an eight-piece band with tuba, two trumpets, saxophones and drums. The music was out, way out there. I was just starting to learn how to play changes at that time. Now when I look back on that, or if I could go back and do that now, I would have a lot more information. But it was good for me to experience then, because it always stayed with me.

AAJ: What would you do now? What would be different?

RH: Well, I would be more equipped. Because I've had some experience in listening and studying that whole era of the avant-garde, when cats were doing different things with the music. You know, Anthony Braxton, Ornette, and Don Cherry.

AAJ: There's another aspect of the music that some say has changed with the times: that is territory. In the big band era, people would talk about a New York sound or a Chicago sound. Do you think that that phenomenon still exists in jazz today?

RH: Yeah, it's still regional.

AAJ: So how about the Texas sound?

RH: Texas? Cats in Texas, man, are very melodic players. The blues is definitely behind it. There's something about being in the South or coming up in all of that hot sun that gives you melody. I noticed that a lot about Texans, they're all very melodic players. Piano players like Red Garland, and Cedar Walton, saxophone players like James Clay.

AAJ: And Ornette Coleman.

RH: Yeah, Ornette Coleman, a very melodic player. And it was interesting for me to come to the East Coast and experience the whole intellectual side of the music. When I got to Berkelee and hooked up with cats like Antonio Hart, you know, who to me has so much information. He's got so much information that playing with him was like being in a library all the time! In a positive sense. He's an example of a musician who has a marriage of the two. He has the dexterity and he plays with a lot of fire. He's intellectual, but not too cold. You know, there are musicians who can play all over the place, but then you don't feel where there coming from.

AAJ: So you'd say there's an intellectual sound on the East Coast.

RH: Yeah, it was interesting for me. When I came to New York, I met players who knew how to play changes, and knew the language. Cats that are from New York have a sound and a vibe that is unlike anything else in the world. I'm talking about cats that can really play and are from New York. I know a few cats, like Stephen Scott, and Greg Hutcherson, and then cats that have been here for a while like Ben Riley and Ray Drummond, Kenny Barron, they have a language. You know that they have been around because they have a complete language.

AAJ: How do you mean? What was that language?

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