The Nov. 2 passing of Roy Hargrove silenced one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of his generation. These 10 tunes illustrate his stylistic range and chart his evolution as a singular jazz voice.
“All Over Again” (from Diamond in the Rough, Novus/RCA 1990)
Even as a 21-year-old whippersnapper, Roy Hargrove demonstrated superlative maturity in crafting cogent passages, bursting with soulful, singable melodies and balletic rhythmic grace. This bossa-nova driven original, from his debut album, shows that he wasn’t too beholden to the hard-bop matrix, as he rides the rhythm with graceful swagger and unfurls sanguine lyricism. The song is also a fine example of the bracing rapport he forged with alto saxophonist Antonio Hart as they blow intertwining improvisations across the rhythm section’s propulsive groove.
“Hartbreaker” (from Public Eye, Novus/RCA 1991)
This blistering hard-bop original is one of Hargrove’s many personal nods to some of his friends and family. In this case, the title alludes to Antonio Hart, the alto saxophonist who shared the frontline in Hargrove’s early recordings. The two certainly strike a flinty accord as evidenced by their twisting unison lines that zoom across a quicksilver tempo, spurred by drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Christian McBride. The song’s melody resembles Freddie Hubbard’s “Birdlike,” and it offers a similar jumping point for balls-to-the-walls improvisations.
“Caryisms” (from The Vibe, Novus/RCA 1992)
Another Hargrove tribute to a band member; this one is for Marc Cary who brought a more soul-funk Lonnie Liston Smith sensibility to the trumpeter’s band. The R&B-laden rhythm bounces to a propulsive groove that allows Hargrove to ease back, showcasing his warm, full-bodied timbre that is the musical equivalent of a glass of Merlot wine. Hart still shares the frontline and issues a searing alto sax solo, worthy of Cannonball Adderley, while Cary – the honoree – hammers out punchy accompaniments underneath the solos before unraveling a percussive, blues-honed solo.
“Soppin’ the Biscuit” (from With the Tenors of Our Time, Verve 1994)
Hargrove always showed great love for his musical elders. On this fantastic hard-bop original, he teams up with Stanley Turrentine, one of several jazz tenor saxophonist veterans who graced With the Tenors of Our Times. Underneath a fetching groove that implies New Orleans’ second-line rhythms, the tune becomes a glowing vehicle for Turrentine’s vinegary-toned blues shouts and Hargrove’s sashaying solo.
“Roy Allan” (from Family, Verve 1995)
This evocative homage to Hargrove’s father, who introduced the trumpeter to ’70s R&B and funk, was one of the first Hargrove tunes to sneak into the setlist of his contemporaries. Rodney Whitaker’s big-boned bassline establishes a melancholic vibe on which Hargrove and tenor saxophonist Ron Blake deliver a pithy unison melody. Eventually, the trumpeter blows one of those now-patented flaring, succinct essays that brims with sumptuous lyricism. With harmonic shades of early-’70s Motown and the rhythmic gait of mid-’90s hip-hop, this tune has become a late-20th century jazz standard.
“Dream Traveler” (from Habana, Verve 1997)
Hargrove switched gears dramatically here, channeling the Cubop legacy of one his heroes – Dizzy Gillespie. Featuring Cristol, a large ensemble of musicians from the U.S. and Cuba, this intoxicating gem demonstrates Hargrove’s rhythmic agility as his supple solo dances across a barreling rumba groove. The album earned Hargrove’s first of two Grammy wins.
“Natural Wonders” (from Moment to Moment, Verve 1999)
Considering Hargrove’s phenomenal gift for delivering ballads, a string-laden outing for him is almost a no-brainer. This suspenseful original gives full testament to his status as one of the greatest jazz balladeers of his generation as he and tenor saxophonist Sherman Irby deliver a luxurious melody that slowly swirls and weaves through his majestic string arrangement.
“Poetry” (from The RH Factor’s Hard Groove, Verve 2003)
After forging a rewarding alliance with the Soulaquarians, a loose-knit collective of hip-hop and modern soul artists that included ?uestlove, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Q-Tip, Hargrove issued his own contribution to early-21st century jazz and hip-hop. On this glowing joint, Hargrove – the jazz trumpeter – takes the spotlight during the bridge between Q-Tip’s rapping and Erykah Badu’s effervescent vocal performance. But Hargrove’s musical voice shines just as brightly by way of his soulful horn arrangement behind Badu.
“Trust” (from Nothing Serious, Verve 2006)
While the early-aughts found Hargrove exploring a lot of hip-hop and modern soul, he didn’t abandon straight-ahead jazz. And this superb ballad conveys his keenness to fold R&B slow-jam sensibilities into modern jazz as he unfurls a pensive melody on flugelhorn that begs for amorous lyrics. He then delivers a gorgeous solo, brimming with late-night sensuality.
“Strasbourg/St. Denis” (from Earfood, EmArcy 2009)
This tantalizing nugget became the Hargrove Quintet’s theme song and another Hargrove original that other jazz musicians interpreted. Danton Boller’s burly bassline initiates the groove that gives way to a spiky melody, articulated by Hargrove and alto saxophonist Justin Robinson. After pianist Gerald Clayton inserts some discreet reggae touches spurred by drummer Montez Coleman, Hargrove and Robinson engage in capricious volley of the seesawing motif. Once Clayton nails a jaunty solo, Hargrove follows suit with staccato riffs that blossom into a dynamic essay solo along with Robinson’s flinty alto.