Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Why Roy Hargrove was so Important to Jazz

Whenever one of our own is taken away from us, it’s always a sad occasion. However, when this happens while they’re still young and have a lot more music to give, it’s even more tragic. This is certainly the case with trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who died on Friday, November 2, 2018, of a heart attack. He was only 49 years old. 

I first met Roy in the late 1980s at the after-hours session at the Blue Note Jazz Club. This was a common meeting ground for young musicians having just arrived in town. I was 23 at the time. And during this youth fascinated period of jazz history, I was approaching the age of being little use to anyone in the industry. This was a very different time. Roy, however, was on a very different trajectory. He was 18 at the time and still attending Berklee College of Music. By the time I heard him, his reputation had quickly preceded him. It was usually along the lines of “Aw man! You gotta hear this cat Roy from Texas.” And the fact that he was already signed, further fueled the excitement.

Roy came on the scene when there were few trumpet players like him. In many ways, he was counter-culture to the intellectual and virtuosic approaches popularized by trumpeters like Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, and Wallace Roney—in that order. Roy brought something much simpler to the table. His approach emphasized the blues, swing, and a dash of R&B. He was coming from a much more organic place than the aforementioned. He was one of the few jazz young musicians at that time to play the blues scale unapologetically. It really struck a chord with the public—especially budding musicians his age and younger. He became the voice of a new generation. 

Unfortunately, his reputation of drug dependancy equally became the topic of discussion, alongside the new neo-soul sound he was honing with bandmates Antonio Hart, Geoffrey Keezer, Christian McBride, and Gregory Hutchinson. 

Most of us wake up to a daily fight with our demons. Some find healthy and positive resolves, others like Roy were not so lucky. 

I never got the opportunity to perform in any of his bands, but because of his love for playing and jamming with fellow musicians, we did share the bandstand numerous times in informal settings. It was nothing short of joyous listening not only to his love for the trumpet and jazz, but for life. Playing jazz might have been his occupation., but it was the sharing of his gifts with the world that became his life's mission. 

I’m sure Roy will always be looking down over us, trumpet in hand, a smile of his face, anxiously waiting to sit in. 

RIP. You’ll be missed.

Check out this clip below of Roy playing one of my favorite compositions of his, "Strasbourg St. Denis."

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