Roy Hargrove Tribute Garners a Capacity Crowd at Jazz at Lincoln Centre

This is Earfood, a new column from arts writer Ashante Infantry that aims to nourish, and satisfy, your sonic curiosity. Earfood explores the ingredients of jazz’s past and present, describing the music and the conditions of its creation and development, contextualizing the genre’s newest sounds.


New York – Two months after his death, fans and colleagues paid tribute to the life and work of trumpet ace Roy Hargrove with high-profile celebrations in his adopted city during the first full week on January.

Wynton Marsalis, who famously discovered the Texas native during a visit to Hargrove’s Dallas high school, kicked off a free, all-star extravaganza at Jazz at Lincoln Center, leading members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in a New Orleans-style second line into the Rose Theater where a capacity crowd of 2,000 saw over 150 musicians honour their friend.

“Every musician who will appear on this stage tonight was deeply touched by Roy,” said the evening’s emcee, longtime pal and Hargrove peer, Christian McBride, of the performers who donated their time. “We all loved him, and he loved us.”

Comprising big band, straight-ahead, bop, Afro-Cuban, hip-hop, neo-soul and funk – all the styles Hargrove worked in – 12 different configurations of his bands delivered the maestro’s signature pieces and compositions as more than 95,000 people around the world tuned in to the free livestream.

Longtime Hargrove collaborators like drummer Willie Jones III, vocalist Renée Neufville, pianist Gerald Clayton and saxophonists Justin Robinson and Antonio Hart were on hand, along with special guests such as trumpeter Terence Blanchard, rapper Common and singer-pianist Norah Jones who attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts ten years after Hargrove.

“He was the pride of our school; we were in awe of him,” recalled Jones who accompanied herself on a spare, solo version of “The Nearness of You,” a song she said she learned by studying Hargrove’s recording.

Highlights of the five hour-tribute included singer Roberta Gambarini’s touching rendition of “I Remember Clifford,” with lyrics changed to “I Remember Hargrove;” living legends George Cables, Gary Bartz, Ray Drummond, and Jimmy Cobb with a tender version of “Peace,” featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater who struggled to maintain her composure; and multiple appearances by crack, up-and-coming trumpeters and Hargrove protégés Giveton Gelin and Theo Croker.

When the program ended at midnight, with the “high cholesterol” sounds of funk band RH Factor, the players moved down the hall to Dizzy’s Club where they continued jamming, memorializing Hargrove into the wee hours. It was the kind of session the late musician, who died November 2, 2018, at the age of 49, of cardiac arrest brought on by dialysis, would have helmed.

“He could literally play all night,” said McBride earlier to the audience that included Hargrove’s family, his high school band director, drumming legend Roy Haynes, 93, and sax master Jimmy Heath, 92, who was two-stepping in the aisles.

Further commemorations of Hargrove, via his songs and collaborators, unfolded at the 15th annual Winter Jazzfest which took place around Manhattan a few days later. Among them: drummer Kassa Overall who showcased his debut album Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz which features Hargrove. Overall, who displays the same genre-straddling versatility as Hargrove, melding hip-hop with jazz, is one of many younger players Hargrove is credited with mentoring.

After his death gifted trumpeter Theo Croker, who shares Hargrove’s “Air Jordans with an Armani suit” sartorial flair, posted: “I wouldn’t be the musician I was today if it wasn’t for your support. You listened to me butcher harmony when I was a teenager and showed me a path to shed. You gave me a horn that opened up and changed my playing forever.”

Hargrove learned at the elbow of deans, such as Shirley Horn, David “Fathead” Newman and Oscar Peterson – with whom he recorded the Juno-nominated Oscar Peterson Meets Roy Hargrove and Ralph Moore in 1996.

“Roy understood that the key to unlocking the true wisdom in this music was to spend time around the elders,” said McBride. “He couldn’t wait to spend time and talk with them. Roy decided to play the language of all his elders and gain their respect and, therefore, gain credibility, and then work on creating something fresh.”

The swinging, soulful Hargrove was a perennial on the Toronto scene, racking up a dozen appearances at the TD Toronto Jazz Festival with his various ensembles between 1993 and 2014, and garnering a Grammy for Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall.

 

Ashante Infantry is a Canadian arts writer and is a former Toronto Star arts journalist.