Trumpeter Roy Hargrove has firmly established himself as among the premier players in jazz and beyond. Ever-stretching into more challenging and colorful ways to flex his musical chops, Hargrove has left indelible imprints in a vast array of artful settings. During his tenure on the Verve label alone, he has recorded an album with a hand-picked collection of the world’s greatest tenor saxophonists (With the Tenors of Our Time), an album of standards with strings (Moment to Moment) and, in 2003, introduced his own hip hop/jazz collective The RH Factor with the groundbreaking CD Hard Groove (swiftly followed by the limited edition EP, Strength). Hargrove has also won Grammy Awards for two vastly different projects. In 1997, Roy’s Cuban-based band Crisol (including piano legend Jesus “Chucho” Valdes and wonder drummer Horatio “El Negro” Hernandez) won the Best Latin Jazz Performance Grammy for the album Habana. In 2002, Hargrove, Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker won Best Instrumental Jazz Album, Individual or Group, for their three-way collaboration Directions in Music.
Hargrove brings two of his musical worlds closer together in 2006 with the simultaneous release of Distractions and Nothing Serious - all new recordings by both of Roy Hargrove’s touring ensembles. Distractions features the contemporary funk/jazz sounds of The RH Factor. Nothing Serious features straight ahead jazz by The Roy Hargrove Quintet with special guest Slide Hampton on trombone. Verve A&R executive Dahlia Ambach-Caplin explains, “When it came time to work on a new album, it became clear that Roy currently has two sides to his music. Choosing one over the other would not do him justice, so we went for both, approaching them as two separate projects. The quintet recorded in March of 2005 with fifteen-time Grammy award-winning engineer Al Schmitt at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, California. The RH Factor recorded later in May at Sausalito’s The Record Plant with engineer Russell Elevado.”
“I’ve been doing more touring with RH Factor than my quintet lately,” Hargrove muses. “People are turning a deaf ear to jazz. Some of that is the fault of jazz musicians trying too hard to appear to be cerebral. They aren’t having fun playing the music and that’s why people aren’t coming to hear it live anymore.
What do we have to offer in the world of jazz today? It’s about being innovative, which is cool. But innovation right now will come in music that’s swinging and feels good. It’s meaningless if it doesn’t make you feel something.”
The bulk of the new twelve-track RH Factor disc is inspired vocal ruminations. Most telling is the knee-deep funk of “A Place,” the hook of which poses the musical question, “If I take you to a place I love / If I change my style / Would you like it?” For the man who came to prominence in the jazz realm, these lyrics reflect the on-going challenge he has bridging the gap between the two styles of music that dominate his direction. “My goal with RH Factor has always been to try to erase the lines between the mainstream and the underground - straight ahead and hip hop/R&B. You have musicians who know all the theory and harmony. Then you have the musicians who have a direct line to the masses and what they like to hear. If you can combine the two, it can be something innovative as well.”
Other vocal numbers on the RH Factor disc include the feel-good track “Crazy Race” (in which some of Hargrove’s trumpet lines recall a melody from Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Brazilian Rhyme”) and “Can’t Stop,” both uplifting messages about striving in the face of adversity. Singer/songwriter Renee’ Neufville, a former member of the female soul duo Zhane who has been performing with RH Factor for the last two years, wrote the laidback “On the One” (about missing an old lover), and co-wrote three others with Hargrove: the aforementioned “A Place,” the chill meditation “Family” and “Hold On,” which features vocals by none other than Roy himself, Renee and RHF drummer Jason “JT” Thomas. Commenting on his vocal feature on this album, Hargrove quips, “I sang on “I’ll Stay” from the first RH Factor album, but this is the first time I’ve sung several bars by myself.”
The man who sang with Roy on “I’ll Stay” was neo soul pioneer D’Angelo, who returns on the new album producing, writing, singing and signifyin’ on the fiery “Bull****.” “I guess he brought me a track he thought would be good for me to play over,” Roy states modestly. “He did the automation at the Record Plant in Sausalito. The band played along to what he programmed, he took it to L.A. to work on it some more, then sent it back to me in New York where I worked on it at Electric Lady Studios.” The song recalls old New Orleans as filtered through a funky haze of modern hip hop boom-bap. “‘D’ most definitely blessed me,” Roy concludes. The remaining RH Factor tracks are groove interludes titled “Distractions” (1-4), plus the percolating psychedelics of the instrumental “Kansas City.”
Recalling the humorous origin of the latter, Hargrove begins, “I was playing a gig there with Directions in Music featuring Michael Brecker and Herbie Hancock and I always carry my portable studio with me. I wrote that in the hotel just after walking to get some fried chicken and Blue Bell ice cream, which they don’t sell in New York. I used to OD on that stuff when I was living in Texas. When I got to KC and saw that they were selling it there, I was so happy, I went back to the hotel and wrote that song on the spot!”
Bringing all this RH Factor funk to life is a unique ensemble of Roy on trumpet, two saxophonists (Keith Anderson and the legendary David “Fathead” Newman), three keyboardists (Charles McCampbell, Bobby Sparks and Neufville), one guitarist (Todd Parsnow), two drummers (Jason “JT” Thomas and Willie Jones III), and - most amazingly - two bass players (Lenny Stalworth and Reggie Washington). “My regular bass player, Reggie, couldn’t make the recording sessions at first,” Hargrove shares. “So I hired Lenny, a friend from Berklee, to do the record. But when Reggie heard about Lenny - not wanting him to creep in and take his gig - he was like ‘Wait a minute!’ I thought, ‘two bassists-two drummers - let’s go!’”
Going with the flow - in more ways than one - has long been a hallmark of Hargrove’s approach. A major influence along those lines is sax man David “Fathead” Newman, a world class player and among the most fabled members of the late great Ray Charles’ band. It was an honor for Roy to have him in the band for this special RH Factor project. “Fathead was the first musician I ever saw improvise,” Hargrove remembers. “I was about fourteen when he came to Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School in Dallas. My band director, Dean Hill, was friends with ‘Fathead’ and invited him to the school. Fathead did a baritone solo over our tuba and drum sections playing (Herbie Hancock’s) “Chameleon”. He was making a whole lot of music without reading anything and I became very fascinated with that. It put me on the road to learning how to improvise.”
Where Roy describes the RH Factor disc Distractions as “coming more from my personal archives,” Nothing Serious featuring his jazz quintet is a completely different animal . . . and not just stylistically. “It’s important with a straight ahead group for everyone to contribute,” Hargrove explains. “Opening things up compositionally keeps the program well-rounded. And even when they’re playing my tunes, everybody’s sound shapes the song.” A key to this cohesiveness can be found in the title of the quintet disc’s fourth track: “Camaraderie.” “That tune is a vehicle for the band to play in a more Avant
Garde way yet still keep it ‘in,’” Hargrove states. Breaking it down even further, he elaborates, “The title suggests togetherness, and a good group has to be very cohesive . . . everybody knowing where everyone else is breathing. That way if you decide to take the music ‘out,’ whatever happens remains musical. The song is organized chaos, all coming together within a minor blues.” “Camaraderie” also has the distinction of being inspired by the late trumpet great Lester Bowie, the forward thinking co-founder of the acclaimed Art Ensemble of Chicago. Roy recalls their meeting. “I was playing a jam session one night in Italy and Lester was there listening. I was playing all my bebop. He came up to me and said, ‘Man, take it out!’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Stop playing all that pretty stuff. Play something ugly!’ So I started playing less inside . . . screamin’ . . . makin’ a lot of noise. Lester lit up like, ‘Yeah!’ It was a lesson for me.”
The eight-song Roy Hargrove Quintet disc Nothing Serious moves from Roy’s breathtaking and sensual Flugelhorn ballad “Trust” and the enveloping warmth of “The Gift” to a fierce waltz time swinger “Salima’s Dance” (from the pen of pianist Ronnie Matthews), a relentlessly winding study in melody from bassist D’Wayne Burno evocatively titled “Devil Eyes,” and a whirl through the magical changes of Branislau Kaper’s “Invitation,” the set’s sole jazz standard. Rounding out the stellar quintet are alto saxophonist Justin Robinson (who also plays some lovely flute on “Trust”) and drummer Willie Jones III, the latter of whom has been playing in Hargrove’s groups for eight years. As a whole, this incarnation of the Roy Hargrove Quintet has been playing together for four years, the tightness of which is evident throughout the disc. The band perfected most of the material on the road before the recording.
One glowing exception is the lushly swingin’ “A Day in Vienna,” contributed by special guest Slide Hampton, a living giant of jazz. Roy cut his teeth with Hampton’s band in a trumpet section that included greats Jon Faddis and Claudio Roditi (documented on the Telarc Records CD Dedicated to Diz, a Slide Hampton & The Jazz Masters set from '93 recorded live at the Village Vanguard). “Slide has been a big part of my education. I can’t tell you know much playing charts from the original Dizzy Big Band book with that group helped me. The way that Slide arranges and voices, he knows how to take a small group of horns and make it sound like an orchestra.” Listen to Roy’s own “Trust” to hear that he learned Slide’s lessons well.
Roy Hargrove was born in Waco, Texas, on October 16, 1969. Inspired by the gospel music he heard in church on Sundays and the R&B and funk music that played on the radio, Roy began learning the trumpet in the fourth grade. By junior high school, he was playing at an advanced level of proficiency. At 16, he was studying music at Dallas’s prestigious Booker T. Washington School for the Visual and Performing Arts.
Midway through his junior year, Roy was “discovered” by Wynton Marsalis, who was conducting a jazz clinic at the school. Impressed, Marsalis invited Roy to sit in with his band at Ft. Worth’s Caravan of Dreams Performing Arts Center. Subsequently, Hargrove was able to return to the venue over a period of the next three months, sitting in with Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Hutcherson. Word of Roy’s talent reached Paul Ackett, founder and Director of The North Sea Jazz Festival who arranged for him to perform there that summer. This lead to a month long European Tour.
Hargrove spent one year (1988-1989) studying at Boston’s Berklee School of Music, but could more often be found in NYC jam sessions, which resulted in his transferring to New York’s New School. His first recording in NYC was with the saxophonist Bobby Watson followed shortly by a session with the up-and-comers super group, Superblue featuring Watson, Mulgrew Miller and Kenny Washington. In 1990, he released his solo debut, Diamond in the Rough, on the Novus/RCA label, for which he would record a total of four albums that document his incubational growth as a “young lion” to watch. Hargrove made his Verve Records debut in 1994 on With the Tenors of Our Time, showcasing him with stellar sax men Joe Henderson, Stanley Turrentine, Johnny Griffin, Joshua Redman and Branford Marsalis.
Every album Roy has released on Verve has been different from the one preceding it. And the same can be said of the array of talents who have invited him to grace the stage and/or their recordings - from jazz legends Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean to song stylists Natalie Cole, Diana Krall and Abbey Lincoln. From pop veterans Diana Ross, Steve Tyrell and Kenny Rankin to younger stars John Mayer and Rhian Benson to the creme de la creme of jazz divas: Carmen McRae and the late, great Shirley Horn. Hargrove was also commissioned by the Lincoln Jazz Center to compose the piece “The Love Suite: In Mahogany,” which was performed in 1993. He is also a superstar of the international touring scene with his quintet, RH Factor and as a soloist.
In 2005, he was a featured guest with Slide Hampton and the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Band in bi-coastal tributes to James Moody in honor of the saxophonists 80th birthday at Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and approximately 25 other concerts around the globe. As RH Factor attests, Roy is also a product of the hip hop generation. He can be heard on a cover of rapper Method Man’s “All I Need” the album-opening track of producer Tony Joseph’s 2005 Verve project Def Jazz (instrumental interpretations of rap classics from the Def Jam label).
He has further ventured into the black pop mainstream as a collaborator with edgy soul star D’Angelo and guest appearances on albums by neo soul priestess Erykah Badu, thought-provoking rapper Common, and English acid jazz DJ/producer Gilles Peterson.
Touching back on the statement Roy made at the outset about the state of jazz and jazz audiences today, the music world would be hard pressed to find another ambassador capable of traversing the worlds of straight ahead swingin’ and the funky underground better than Brother Hargrove. The RH Factor’s Distractions and The Roy Hargrove Quintet’s Nothing Serious stand as the actual proof.