Remembering Roy Hargrove (1969-2018)

Music Features Roy Hargrove
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Remembering Roy Hargrove (1969-2018)

Jazz trumpeter and neo-soul musician Roy Hargrove died on Friday, Nov. 2, in New York City. Hargrove, who had been on dialysis for 13 years, passed away at age 49 due to cardiac arrest as a result of kidney disease, according to his longtime manager Larry Clothier (via The New York Times).

Hargrove was known not only for his work as an energized trumpeter and jazz influencer over the past three decades, but also for his contributions to an early 21st century musical movement called neo-soul, a melding of soul and R&B made popular by artists like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. Though Hargrove was always grounded in traditional jazz, he contributed to albums by both of those artists: D’Angelo’s Voodoo in 2000, and Badu’s funk-fueld Mama’s Gun the same year. Hargrove was already famous in the jazz world in the 1990s, but his time playing with the Soulquarians, a collective of musicians including Badu, D’Angelo, Questlove and others who often recorded at the storied Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan, earned him attention as a neo-soul harbinger. After also appearing on Common’s Like Water for Chocolate, Hargrove spearheaded his own mixed-music group project and collective, The RH Factor, who’ve released four studio albums since 1995. The RH Factor was a progressive collaboration that mixed jazz, hip hop, soul and funk and featured, at various times, musicians like Jonathan Batiste and Chalmers “Spanky” Alford.

Though the Soulquarians and The RH Factor may have been his most far-reaching projects, Hargrove’s Grammy wins are thanks to 2003’s Directions in Music, a supergroup record also featuring pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Michael Brecker that won best jazz instrumental album, and another of his own albums, 1997’s Habana, an experimental afro-funk effort recorded in Cuba that snagged him the award for best Latin jazz performance. His first ever record, Diamond in the Rough, was released in 1990 on RCA’s Novus Records.

Prior to transferring to the New School in New York, Hargrove attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston for about a year, though during his time at both schools, you’d be more likely to find him collaborating on a jam session than in any classroom. It was in high school, however, when Hargrove first discovered his love for jazz music’s versatility. After being discovered by fellow trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis at a performing arts high school in Dallas, Texas (not far from his native Waco), he also gained adoration from other modern jazz forbearers like saxophonist Bobby Watson and the legendary Sonny Rollins, who asked Hargrove to play on a song called “Young Roy” in 1991. Hargrove’s biggest stated influence, though, was David “Fathead” Newman, another saxophonist known for his work with Ray Charles.

Though Hargrove had slowed down with age these past few years, he’d been scheduled to perform at a church service in Newark, N.J., just this past Saturday, Nov. 3. He credited legions of jazz musicians for their influence on him, but Hargrove himself provided guidance to younger musicians. Ambrose Akinmusire, a younger jazz trumpeter, and jack-of-all-trades Questlove both sounded off on social media about what Hargrove meant to them:

The Great Roy Hargrove. He is literally the one man horn section I hear in my head when I think about music. To watch him harmonize with himself stacking nine horn lines on mamouth 10 mins songs RARELY rewinding to figure out what he did. Or not even contemplating what the harmony was (this is up there with Jay Z never writes his rhymes territory) —-like you can hear an incomplete Dangelo song once—-like an 11 min song—-and then in 20 secs you know the EXACT SPOT ON line to bob in and weave out?!!!! I know I’ve spoken in every aspect of Soulquarian era recording techniques but even I can’t properly document how crucial and spot on Roy was with his craft man. We NEVER gave him instructions: just played the song and watched him go —-like “come back in 45 mins I’ll have something” matter of fact now that I think of it —-I was so amped to put handclaps on @Common’s #ColdBlooded @JamesPoyser and i didn’t even take proper time out to approve what he worked on, it was like I already knew. So when you hear us SCREAMING/laughing at the 1:51 mark (me/com/d/rahzel/james) that’s us MIND BLOWN at another #Game6 esque performance from Roy. And all that stuff towards the end? We just reacting in real time to greatness. Such a key component. And a beautiful cat man. Love to the immortal timeless genius that will forever be Roy Hargrove y’all. #RoyHargroveRip

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Below, watch Roy Hargrove perform “Mister Magic” at the 2001 Newport Jazz Festival via the Paste vault. Further down, watch archived interview footage from the same day.