If anyone doubted the stature of Roy Hargrove, then the glittering Jazz at Lincoln Center tribute, complete with five hours of music, two hundred musicians and a procession of stars was a proportionate homage to his extravagant oeuvre and his thirty-year career. The night on Tuesday, January 8 was in keeping with the late trumpeter’s image: few words, lots of music.
Manhattan shivers in early January, but it lives and breaths jazz more than ever. The two days of the Jazz Congress have now come to end but the Winter Jazzfest is in full swing in the Greenwich Village clubs. The concert for Roy Hargrove, which took place at the prestigious Rose Theater (1200 seats on three levels) on the fifth floor of the imposing Lincoln Center that borders Central Park, couldn’t contain the public and had to open its adjourning doors, projecting the celebrations.
Roy Hargrove succumbed to long-suffered kidney problems on November 2 in New York at the age of forty-nine. Two months later, his mother Jacklyn, his brother Brian, his daughter Kamala and his wife Aida met the crowds for a memorable evening. Proceedings began in the fashion of New Orleans funeral traditions before the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra entered from the back of the theater, like the second line in a parade.
It is true that the leader of the orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, was the man who discovered the trumpet player when visiting Booker T. High School in Dallas, where he grew up. Hargrove was only eighteen years old; Christian McBride was three years younger. The bassist would become Hargrove’s friend and one of his most faithful accomplices. Fittingly, it was McBride’s task to present the evening, something he pulled off with an ease and grace that should inspire him to make a foray into stand-up comedy. After recalling that Roy “not only became a great trumpet player but also the leader of several big bands and a brilliant composer, arranger and singer,” he added that Roy had also been a pioneer of neo-soul, having worked alongside D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, and even fashion trend-setter: “He was the first to wear Air Jordans with an Armani suit … combining the styles of James Bond 007 and Dennis Rodman!”
Later, all of many groups Roy Hargrove collaborated with started an honorary procession; beginning with the big band he cut the album Emergence with in 2009. Then, Roberta Gambarini interpreted “Everytime We Say Goodbye” before Theo Crocker and Giveton Gelin deployed their trumpets to blast out a melodic version of “September in the Rain” with help from the audience. The quintets went on to follow one another, including one with a special line up: Freddie Hendrix (trumpet), Karriem Riggins (drums), Antonio Hart (saxophone), Jon Batiste (piano) and McBride himself. “It’s the concert of the year,” said one already in the bays, while the music was just getting started.
Roy Hargrove loved the company of his elders because he was conscious of his position in prolonging a story – the same one told by another exceptional quartet: George Cables (piano, 74), Ray Drummond (double bass, 72), Gary Bartz (saxophone, 78) and Jimmy Cobb (drums, 89), who were joined by Dee Dee Bridgewater. Yet from quintet to quintet, the procession continued: Marc Cary, Justin Robinson, Tadataka Unno, Quincy Phillips, Ameen Saleem, Willie Jones III, Cyrus Chestnut, Steve Davis, Gerald Clayton, Lezlie Harrison and Jeremy Pelt who offered a sublime trumpet solo on “Nature Boy.” This all took place right in front of Larry Clothier, Roy’s manager and the man who re-assembled the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band (which once included the trumpeter) to play “Things to Come” with the devastating Jon Faddis. A triumph.
“Roy and I come from the public school system,” said Christian McBride at a time when it is threatened under the Trump administration. Norah Jones, like Erykah Badu and Hargrove himself were trained at the Booker T. Washington High School. She reminisced about this while performing “The Nearness of You,” alone at the piano. Even Roy’s widow, Aida Brandes, was able to sing in turn despite the emotion of the evening.
The Afro-Cuban super-group, Crisol (including Gary Bartz), was up next, with whom Hargrove won a Grammy Award for his album Habana in 1998. In the third row, Roy Haynes was there to show his appreciation. But everyone was still waiting for the RH Factor, who eventually took to the stage after four hours of performance for a festive celebratory closing act. The twelve musicians in the funk gang deployed like artillery, before being joined by the rapper Common, the trumpeter Terence Blanchard, Stephanie McKay on “Forget Regret” and, of course, Renee Neufville (the emblematic singer of the RH Factor) who was radiant all evening.
At midnight, the public finally dispersed under a New York drizzle, sated with music. Roy Hargrove’s is sure to remain.