A True Minister of Our Music: Remembering Roy Hargrove (1969 - 2018)


News | Nov, 6th 2018

Roy Hargrove, the Grammy Award-winning trumpeter who influenced scores of musicians in every genre, passed away recently at the age of 49. Jazz at Lincoln Center asked some of our staff to reflect on Roy's legacy.

We lost a true missionary and minister of our music this past week in Roy Hargrove.
Although he faced an uphill battle with his health over the years, it didn’t deter him or even slow him down from doing what he was undoubtedly born to do – minister through music. That he did until the end.

I first met Roy Hargrove in 1986 at Booker T Washington High School for the Performing Arts in Dallas, Texas. He was a 16 years old phenom playing lead trumpet parts with incredible accuracy and also improvising original solos with gleaming nuggets of melody swimming in harmonic sophistication with generous helpings of downhome blues and soul.

Roy played piano, wrote songs, sang and had a great sense of humor. To top it all off, he possessed an unerring sense of time, in the pocket at any tempo fast or slow. Kids in the school just loved him and were all excited about his great musicianship and about the magic they experienced every day listening to him and playing with him.

He played with an unusual and infectious combination of fire, honesty and sweet innocence. The first time I heard him it was clear, he was an absolute natural with phenomenal ears, a great memory and tremendous dexterity on our instrument.

He was diligent about his playing technically and emotionally. Playing with an uncommon depth of feeling with a very developed internal sense of that which is unspeakable about the intimate. A Roy ballad was always exquisite.

Just as many in the continuum of our music poured information and aspirations into him, Roy gave selflessly to others, particularly to young musicians. He did everything he could to ensure that the circle would not be broken, at least not on his watch.

His participation on the scene in New York most reminded me of Woody Shaw. Roy continued Woody’s tradition of sitting in all around town and of playing, of encouraging everyone to play (not just with incredible solos), but with knowledge of songs and with advice and with just the feeling of “we are in this together and this is worth doing, and it’s valuable.”

While I am truly saddened as I write this, I am also encouraged by the life and the legacy that Roy left. He meant it.

Rest in Peace Baby.

–Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center Managing and Artistic Director.

Everybody Wants To Be A Cat. Roy Hargrove was the cat. He was a one take guy. Live all the way. Like his life. Lyrical, bombastic, introspective, outlandish, for real, enigmatic...but always Roy. Thank you for everything - the inspiration, the exasperation, the beauty, the generosity. Last man standing. Always and Forever. Love you, Roy.

-Longtime friend and colleague Jason Olaine, Jazz at Lincoln Center Director of Programming and Touring. Jason worked with Roy since 1994, booking him with various groups and with different guests around the world, as well as producing or co-producing Roy’s albums Hard Groove, Directions in Music, Roy Hargrove with Strings: Moment to Moment, and Disney Jazz Volume 1: Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.

I’ve been thinking so much about Roy Hargrove. He and I went to college together at The Berklee School of Music. I’ll never forget the 1st time I heard him play. It was the beginning of my second year at Berklee. The school had a concert to welcome all the incoming freshmen. The concert featured faculty along with many of the top students at the school. Although this concert was to welcome incoming freshmen, it also featured an incoming freshman...Roy Hargrove. I think he was about 17 years old. We all knew he was going to be a “jazz star”. The song he played was "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" by Duke Ellington. I still to this day remember the nuance he played the melody with, his beautiful tone, inflection, perfect time, swing, lyricism, sweetness, sincerity and confidence. He was only 17, hadn’t recorded yet, but already had his own sound. I heard his influences...Lee Morgan, Miles, Pops, Freddie, Clifford, Woody...I heard blues, soul and gospel mixed with jazz and bebop...I heard pure music. He was always all about the music. Over the years, when we’d see each other at jazz festivals and concerts all over the world, he’d always greet me with a warm smile, “Ramp-tones” and a hug. He’s left us way too soon, but he made a huge impact and touched countless people through his music. Rest In Peace, Roy Hargrove.

-Kenny Rampton, Trumpeter in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

In Roy’s death, seeing all the tributes and listening to him in a totally different way now, I’m so inspired. He always inspired me. But the surreal-ness of his d**th (still hasn’t set in for me) multiplies how much his music touches me. He’s so free. So raw. So honest. Holds nothing back. Speaks his heart. His passion is strong. He lived. He LIVES.

-Marcus Printup, Trumpeter in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

(Photo by Frank Stewart for JALC)


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