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Meet Roy Hargrove

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In memory of Roy Hargrove. This interview was first published in 1996.

All About Jazz: Glancing at your discography, I am impressed by the number of musicians you've recorded with. In fact, the title of your release Family refers to the extended family of musicians that you've acquired over the years. What is it that makes you all kindred spirits? How do you feel connected?

Roy Hargrove: Number one, having played with them in a lot of different situations, some of them have been a lot of fun, others have also been very challenging. Some of those situations have been where I played with my colleagues on recordings with some of the masters. That has been an educational experience for me and for them also. Experience in having played with them is one of the things that formed a bond between us.

AAJ: How about stylistically? Do you find yourselves like-minded?

RH: Yeah, with some cats. Especially cats like Ralph Moore. I like playing with Ralph. I remember the first time I played a gig with him was at The Willow, when I was going to Berklee. Back then, James Williams would come to Boston once or twice a year and he'd have me play with him down at The Willow in Cambridge. I guess the first time I played that gig with him, Ralph Moore was on the gig. James is a very professional cat, very straight ahead. So he mailed me the music beforehand, as well as a tape of his recordings. I remember being totally blown away by the music. Some of the tunes were very complex, challenging tunes, but they all had this very familiar sound and language to them. When we actually got there to the gig, Ralph was there. I remember the thing that I liked most about him was his sound. That, and his ability to blend. When he played lines with another horn player he'd blend very well. It was nice playing with him. Since then, we have gone on a couple of tours together. One of those was with a group called Generations Sextet. That was Ralph, me, a cat that was my roommate at the time at Berklee, Walter Booker, on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums, and a guitarist from Colorado, named Tonk Evans. The concept of the group was different generations playing together. We really had a good time on that tour. I know I learned a lot of music. We also learned about off-road things, things about traveling.

AAJ: What kinds of things?

RH: Oh, like, you know sometimes, when you're on the road, you get in trouble with train conductors. If you have a bass, they won't let you on with your instrument. You know, just little things like that. Things that become obstructions along the way.

AAJ: You mentioned your education, in two ways already...

RH: Yeah, I learned the most from experience, playing with guys, especially playing with older musicians. I was very fortunate to be able to go to Berklee College of Music. I also went to the New School for Social Research, here in New York. I learned something from being at both those places. Most of what I learned from that involved being in a very competitive atmosphere. There was always somebody behind you, ready. There was always a group of people sort of in league with each other, yet in competition with each other. This gives you perspective, keeps you on your toes, and keeps you always practicing. There's always a cat right behind you, so you better keep it moving!

AAJ: That's a good point. One thing that's true about most musicians these days is that everyone's formally trained. They've studied their changes, their theory, their composition.

RH: It's true. I was just having a conversation about that very point with Curtis Fuller last night. He was telling me that he comes from a generation of people that couldn't analyze what they were playing, they were just playing music. He said, ?young trombone players come and ask me all the time, ?what was that you were doing on that Coltrane album or that Art Blakey album??? And he'll tell them, "I don't know!" He told me, ?I got so used to saying ?I don't know,? that I really wonder if I do know!? But most of what I learned about music wasn't formal. I developed a love of music at a young age. Ever since I was about three or four years old I knew that music was a big part of my life. Thanks to my father, who was also a great lover of music. There was always a lot of records in the house and he had this old stereo. So I began to experiment with it. He showed me how to use his reel-to-reel and I would go and listen to The Four Tops. I knew all the words to all The Spinners? tunes, and stuff like that. Coming up in the seventies, you know, that was the era of dance music—disco and rhythm and blues. I listened to The Temptations, Earth Wind and Fire, Roberta Flack.

AAJ: A lot of musicians your age mention growing up with the music of the seventies. Does that influence your playing today?

RH: Oh, definitely. That's a part of my style.

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