Meet Roy Hargrove
RH: When you take the drummer out? Well, that all depends on who it is. If you got a cat that has problems with the time, then of course, you're gonna have problems. But with Christian McBride and Stephen Scott, the drums aren't missed at all. They are drummers, themselves. You can hear the drums in their rhythmic concept.
AAJ: Let me switch gears here for a minute. Who do you count as important influences in your compositions.
RH: I'd have to say John Hicks, James Williams and Bobby Watson.
AAJ: How do you think you've absorbed their influences?
RH: John Hicks influenced me with his harmonic concept. He uses a lot of major chords. At the time that I connected with him, he was playing tunes with a major sharp 11th sound. That's one of my favorite sound. So I started to write a lot of tunes with that sound in it. James Williams has a very soulful approach to writing. This is something that I took little bit of from him. I'm learning how to write in a very melodic way but with chords that are a little different from the usual two-five three-six two-five-one thing. Sometimes they move in an unconventional motion. I try to make my compositions tunes that you can hear and remember, that stays with you. This is the kind of music that I like. This is why I had such a great time on a Cedar Walton recording I did not too long ago. He had written all of these tunes that were very strong melodically. They stayed with me for a while. I still hear them in my head. Of course, Charlie Parker influences my writing. He had a lot of rhythmic and harmonic things going on. And a lot his tunes were like pieces of his solos. He had certain phrases that he would develop. One of the hippest things about Bird's tunes is that at the end of the melody it continues back at the beginning. [Sings the head to "drifting on a Reed"] It turns back on itself and keeps going and going! That's really heavy to me, I really like that.
AAJ: A lot of critics have dubbed your music, as well as the music of many of your contemporaries, "neobop." What's your reaction to that label?
RH: Neobop? What's that? Neobop. I guess that's a way to describe the fact that a lot of us are playing in a tradition. Everything that we play in jazz is a reflection of our experiences in life. Our experiences are quite different from Charlie Parker's. But it's still our experiences. I'm influenced by the music of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie. But I'm also influenced by the music of KRS-One, Woo Tang Clan, and L. L. Cool J, Peaches and Herb, and Earth, Wind and Fire. There's a difference right there. I don't know where the term neobop comes from. It's a way to describe the fact that we're living in a contemporary world and for us to be playing in a classical style is out of the norm. I know people at home always ask me "why don't you do rap?" They don't expect me, as a young person, to be playing jazz. But I've always felt I have to challenge myself. And because I love music so much, I didn't want to fall into any kind of rut. I always want to be learning something new. I never was about getting a lot of money and becoming famous for me. I figured if I stay true to the art and learn as much as I can, the rest is secondary. Whatever I can do to further my development as an artist comes first. So neobop is just a title, it's a fiction.
AAJ: One last question. I want to ask you about your work with big bands. Big bands have seen a renewed interest in diverse spheres of music. You have the Mingus Big Band, the David Murray Big Band, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Roy Hargrove Big Band, just to name a few. What do you see as the source of this outburst of energy?
RH: Well, it's different from what most people are used to. But it's very difficult to keep something like that going financially. To begin with, you have like seventeen cats. This is a society which is more or less about dividing the pot among less and less people. Especially in pop music. Look at all the groups that have splintered into solo acts or being producers. Even with me, it's hard to keep a quintet on the road. That's why I admire Wynton for his work with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. They're able to travel and play. I would like to take a big band on the road, but we need a sponsor!
AAJ: So what drew you to the idea?
RH: I always wanted to do a big band. Ever since I got my first experiences in writing for big band in high school I wanted to do it. Then I saw a video of Dizzy Gillespie directing a big band and that influenced me a lot. His style of big band is what has influenced me the most. Well, Dizzy and Thad Jones.
AAJ: What is it about those bands that inspires you?