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Meet Roy Hargrove

By Published: August 15, 2007

RH: Yeah, let me think about it for a second. Take a player like Stephen Scott. I met him when I was like sixteen. I hadn't even been to New York yet. I was at a convention in Detroit, the National Association of Jazz Educators convention. We were five or six young kids from around the country that they selected for this "young talent" thing that they were doing. We were playing in a band together, and I remember Stephen was the baddest cat there. He was playing all of this Monk stuff on the piano, he had all these New Orleans tunes, so I got with him and we played all night, man. For two days we played straight through the night. We would go from room to room, wherever they had a piano, we'd set up and play, me and him and this bassist named Nathan Berg. I remember being amazed at how much this cat knew. I was like sixteen, he was like eighteen, and he knew all these tunes, he even had some of his own tunes, too. I mean, at this time, I couldn't even play rhythm changes! I could play in minor keys, something like an F-minor blues, but nothing with too many two-fives. I hadn't really developed enough to play over complex chord progressions. But when I met Stephen, he opened my ears up to some musicians who I hadn't really heard yet, like Lee Morgan, for instance. I didn't know who he was at that time. Stephen sent me a tape with Lee Morgan and some young Freddie solos with the transcriptions.

AAJ: I didn't know you guys went back so far.

RH: Yeah, this was in 1986. So, here's an example of a cat who's from New York. And he introduced me to his crew when I got to New York: Eric Lemon, Justin Robinson, Teru Alexander, Philip Harper, Winard Harper, and Troy Davis. They were all playing the jam session after hours at the Blue Note. So I would come up from Boston every now and then to hang out with those cats. Everybody had the language down. How can I describe it? Like drummers, they would always emphasize the cymbal beat. This was something I was not used to hearing. All the drummers I knew down in Texas, most of them played funk. The sound of the drums was about playing drums most of the time, not about the cymbals. When I came to New York I learned about the importance of subtlety, intensity without so much volume, and playing changes. In Texas, it was a little bit different. People didn't know that much about playing changes. Everybody was just like, "OK, well let's play some blues!" Or we'd play something based on the blues, something real simple with a tonal center, in the key of C or something like that. When I started going out on the road with older musicians and my ears started to open up a little more. There were a lot of tunes that I learned on the spot, just from being on the bandstand with older cats. They'd call a tune I didn't know and I'd say "I don't know that." And they'd say "Oh, well you'll hear it." They'd begin to play and I would join in. They were right, I could hear it. That's another thing about the cats from New York—they know the standards repertoire. They know tunes that are in the great American songbook, tunes by Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael. Tunes like "Love for Sale" and "The Nearness of You." And all those New York players have developed their own interpretations of these tunes, their own reharmonizations. That's one thing I dig about Stephen Scott. He's not afraid to take a tune, turn it inside out, and make it sound like something that he wrote. You can still tell what tune it is, but he's put his own little vibe on it.

AAJ: So how are you different, as a trumpet player, from people who grew up here in New York?

RH: I think that I play blues differently than cats up here. East Coast blues is different from Southern blues. It's more about playing changes up here. It's more linear. At first, I used to think that there was one way to play the blues. That was I-IV-V: [sings a short, soulful, blues line.] You know what I mean? Gut bucket blues. But when I came here I realized there's other ways. There's the twelve bar blues progression. Then there's the different variations on that progression which involve playing different chords— playing I-IV-II-V or then you got up a third, all of these different ways of playing a standard twelve bar blues. These are things I didn't know before I came here and heard cats playing changes. This was very helpful to me, I could apply what I already knew about playing gut-bucket and then learn about playing changes on top of that. But as far as trumpet players go, there weren't a lot of trumpet players on the scene here in the late eighties to compare myself.

AAJ: At any given time, there are about ten tenor players to every trumpet.

RH: Yeah, there's always a ton of saxophones around! Not enough bass players though. Never enough bass players around.

AAJ: I'm sure you were happy to hook up with Christian McBride.

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