Renowned trumpeter Roy Hargrove was born in Waco, Texas on October 16, 1969. The family moved to Dallas when he was 8 years old, and he soon took up the trumpet. He eventually wound up studying the instrument at the Dallas Arts Magnet High School, which is where Wynton Marsalis discovered him in 1987. Marsalis invited the teen to sit in with his band. Later on he would also sit in with Dizzy Gillespie and several other leading lights of the jazz world.
Speaking of which, over the years Hargrove has performed with a long list of the greats of jazz, including Freddie Hubbard, Michael Brecker, Bobby Hutcherson, Sonny Rollins, Stevie Wonder, Cedar Walton, Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey, Gerald Clayton, Johnny Griffin, Frank Morgan, and many others.
Hargrove’s life has had its ups and downs. On the positive side, in 1989 or 1990, depending on whom you listen to, he released his first album, “Diamond In The Rough.” During the next three years he released four more albums, all on the Novus label. In 1997 he won his first Grammy® award, for the album “Habana.” Five years later he was awarded another Grammy® for “Directions In Music,” a live recording with Herbie Hancock and the late Michael Brecker. He also has composed music for three motion pictures: “It Runs In The Family” (2003); “My Brother” (2006); and “The Central Park Five” (2012).
On the less than positive side, Hargrove has had a few run-ins with the law over the years. The most recent incident occurred in April of 2014 when he was arrested by New York City police and charged with possession of cocaine. In court the following month, he pled guilty and, after a stern lecture from the judge, was sentenced to community service.
Hargrove has released a large number of albums, several of which I am happy to have in my personal collection. The one I want to tell you about this time around is, in my estimation, one of his best. That would be the 2008 release on the Emarcy label, “Earfood.”
As usual, we begin with the personnel:
Roy Hargrove, trumpet and flugelhorn
Dan Boller, bass
Gerald Clayton, piano
Montel Coleman, drums
Justin Robinson, flute and alto sax
“Earfood” gives us a baker’s dozen songs (or as I prefer to call it, “lucky 13”), seven of which are Hargrove’s own compositions. To get things started the band pulls up a Cedar Walton tune, “I’m Not So Sure.” This is a lively number with a funky, bluesy tone that grabbed me from the beginning. Hargrove and the boys do an impeccable job on this one, and it well sets the tone for all that follows.
Check it out for yourself. Here is the Roy Hargrove Quintet performing ” I’m Not So Sure”:
Next we have the first of Hargrove’s own songs here, a short, mellow piece called “Brown.” This one is hard to pin down, style-wise. Drummer Coleman’s percussion gives it a slightly samba-esque feel, but that is belied by the bop-oriented tack followed by the others. Hargrove’s choice to mute his trumpet here is perfect. He seems to glide over the notes with an inviting warmth that would be hard to achieve with an un-muted horn.
Another Hargrove original is next, “Strasbourg/St. Denis.” This is not so much a song at first as it is a musical conversation, with Hargrove and Robinson on sax exchanging delightfully catchy, staccato, musical statements right and left.
Here is your chance to enjoy “Strasbourg/St. Denis”:
After “Strasbourg/St. Denis,” Hargrove gives us his take on Lou Marini’s “Starmaker.” On September 15, 2012, I reviewed Marini’s then-new jazz CD, “Starmaker,” based on the classic Olaf Stapledon science fiction novel of the same name. Despite the fact that I have been a life-long fan of science fiction, I must admit that I have not read Stapledon’s classic, so I can’t comment on how well either Marini or Hargrove caught the spirit of the novel. What I can do is comment on the music itself, and I have to say it’s a mellow masterpiece.
Here are Hargrove and company with their interpretation of “Starmaker”:
For comparison, here is a fan video of Lou Marini performing “Starmaker” live in 2008:
Skipping ahead we come to another Hargrove original, “The Stinger.” Whatever the provenance behind the title, this is a lively, happy-go-lucky song that will immediately catch your attention if it has wandered. Robinson is a standout on his sax, as is Clayton on piano. I especially love the two horns, sax and trumpet, blowing in lockstep with one another, note-for-note.
Hargrove and the boys, performing “The Stinger”:
I think it’s only fitting to end this review with the closing song of the album, Sam Cooke’s mournful ballad, “Bring It On Home To Me.” This version is anything but mournful, however, and it is also the only song on the album recorded before a live audience. Hearing their reaction, you can’t help but wish the whole album had been “live.” Hargrove is in fine form, and Clayton makes good use of his short solo also. Short is the key word here because “Bring It On Home To Me,” possibly the best song on the album, is, at just over three minutes, also the shortest.
So there you have it. One of the best albums ever released by the man who many expect will go down in jazz history as one of the top five jazz trumpeters ever. Truly an excellent album to add to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
To learn more about Roy Hargrove and his music, here are a few places to start.
Over all allaboutjazz.com, Michael Bailey has written an extensive review of “Earfood” for those of you who like the technical stuff.
Scott Yanow has written a flattering, if short, bio of Hargrove for the allmusic.com web site.
The orphan web site jazztrumpetsolos.com (which has not been updated since 2005) has a more complete write-up of Hargrove. If you click the site’s “Home” link, you’ll need to play with it a bit in your browser’s address bar to actually get to the site home page.
One of Hargrove’s record labels, Verve, has an extensive article about him.
The good jazz lovers at NPR have a full page on Hargrove.
What kind of modern, 21st Century jazz hero would he be without a Facebook page?
I hate to end this on a down note, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed, no, make that a LOT disappointed, when I discovered his listing on the site bandsintown.com.
This site lists concert dates, both upcoming and for several years into the past. From this we can see that Hargrove has performed live as close as Seattle (sometimes for four or five nights) every year, in December.
But not once in Portland.
Frankly, that sucks, Roy. I love your music, but why should your Portland fans have to drive four hours ONE WAY to see you? And then have the choice of either driving all night to get home after, or going to the added expense of getting a hotel room for the night.
You’re great, but you’re no Eric Clapton or Elton John.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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