The Jazz Gallery co-founder Roy Hargrove passed away on November 2, 2018, and the physical world let go of a beautiful and mysterious being. Deeply focused on advancing the spirit of the music, the beloved trumpet player, composer and community mentor dedicated his life to fostering connections, often inadvertently, and playing the prettiest notes.
This Tuesday, January 8, at Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Jazz Gallery and the New York jazz community at large will be remembering Roy’s pivotal and enduring contributions with a musical celebration at 7:00 P.M. Below, artists touched by Roy’s creativity and presence share their thoughts on the artist’s melodies, mentoring style, and generosity.
Tough Love: Gerald Clayton Speaks
Usually when I talk about Roy, I talk about how it was the first time I was around somebody who was about the music 24/7. He really treated it as more than just a job. He dedicated all of his spiritual energy to it. We would show up at a hotel somewhere, and he would run to the piano and start playing a tune. And then if you weren’t looking over his shoulder and recording, you’d be in trouble the next day on the gig because that’s the tunes he would call on the gig. You’d be SOL. In that vein, he expected the sidemen to be equally quick—to be able to soak up any musical information as quickly as he does—as he did—which was freakishly fast. One time through, Roy pretty much had it.
And if Roy ever learned a tune at any point in his life, it was in his ears forever. He would never forget it. He’d be showing me a tune, and I’d need to hear it a second time; by the third time, he would get frustrated: “Man, you supposed to know it by now!” So three years of that, you get used to having to learn songs that quickly to keep up with the pace. He was from the old school mentality where you would get vibed if you were out of line. That definitely stuck with me. I don’t vibe the young’uns as hard as I got vibed, and sometimes I think I should.
Part of what we all loved about him so much, whether you’re a musician or a listener, is that he gave of himself to the situation, to the music, to the audience. He wasn’t selfish with what he was playing. He was always playing something that just felt and sounded—good. He always chose the prettiest notes. There was a bullseye quality to it; it was like an unwavering thing. You never heard him not sound that way. And that’s kind of unbelievable. I certainly can’t do that; I know very few people who have that kind of consistency in being able to stay connected to the target. And more than from a musical place, an emotional spiritual intention behind the note—he never missed. It was every single night. And it didn’t matter what stage he was on, who he was playing with, he just always nailed it. It was unreal.
Keeping Them Humble: Jaleel Shaw Speaks
He was really, really quiet, and we always just played. One thing I respected about Roy was that he was so much about the music, that he let the music speak for itself. And he worked hard to let the music speak for itself. That’s something I’ve been thinking about more and more since he passed.
He was always trying to make the music sound the best that it possibly could, even through helping other musicians—younger musicians—helping them to know what the right changes are to a tune; helping them to know what the right melody is. Just his presence was inspiring. To be in the presence of a great artist at a jam session, it forced you to step your game up a little bit; it forced you to want to play better. And it always presented a sense of humility to see Roy at a jam session. There were days—and there still are days when I don’t want to go to a jam session. I don’t want to go out at night and play. But there was a sense of humility Roy brought about when you went to the jam session and saw Roy not only playing with really young musicians that didn’t know the melody, but playing with vocalists—any vocalist. Roy didn’t care what the vocalist sounded like. He would get up on stage and play with the vocalist. Some musicians have a tendency to run when the vocalist gets up on the stage, but Roy was always down to play, and I think there was a humility in that that was relieving. It woke you up to how it’s really about the music and it woke you up to how it’s not about the ego. It’s not about the ego. Just to see him there, and to know his openness to play with anyone is something I will never ever forget.
There There and Beyond There: Gretchen Parlato Speaks
I was just among the many who were in awe of Roy Hargrove. Rooted in tradition, leading music forward, yet most striking was his ability to be completely in the present moment. He was present! He was here—dedicated to playing, creating, participating in the music scene. He was above and beyond us, yet actually attainable. We could always hear him, talk to him, even play with him. He cared about relating to the community. He cared about the state of this music. His presence will be missed. All that’s left is gratitude. Thank you, Roy Hargrove.
Long Road Home: Kassa Overall Speaks
In the past two years, I developed a connection to Roy. Since I moved to New York, I’ve been watching Roy and following him around—asking him dumb questions when I see him at the sessions. Sometimes he would answer and be cool, sometimes he would act like he didn’t know me—or sometimes maybe he didn’t know me. And then one time he heard me at Fat Cat about eight years ago; I had played an uptempo in a way that was like the old cats, and he really loved it. And it was like, ‘Alright cool, let’s hook up sometime,’ and he was like, ‘Cool.’ And then I’d see him again and he’d be like—quick. Then about two years ago, I took a drum solo at Dizzy’s and I put it on Instagram, and he liked it. And I forgot about it. Then I saw him at Smalls, as I would usually see him at Smalls, and we said wassup—we were at that point—and he said, “I liked that solo.” And I was like, “Which one?” And he said, “You know the one!” And I did know the one. And from that point on, he acknowledged what I was doing. He was kind of hearing what I was doing, and when I would sit in at Smalls, he would always hop up and play and kind of be enthusiastic. And he would always say, “Kassa is exuberant. When it comes to the music, you’re exuberant.” One time I asked him, “What does that mean?” And he said, “You know, I don’t really know.”
So after all that, I asked him if he wanted to get in on a song on my album and he said he was down. About six months went by with me texting him and trying to get him to come, “I’ll get you an Uber there and back,” negotiating for six months to maybe a year. Finally, he came to the studio. He got on a track. It took like two hours, and it was incredible. We’ve been tight ever since. We just became cool. I would go to his gigs more than anybody. If he was playing in any city where I happened to be, which I often was, I’d show up and go hang.
The life and work of Roy Hargrove will be honored at a musical celebration on Tuesday, January 8, in Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, on Broadway at 60th Street, New York, New York. Doors will open at 6:30pm and the event will begin promptly at 7:00pm. As TJG continues Roy’s legacy in different ways, you can share your story or thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or DMing @meetmissjonesny.