Trumpeter Hargrove Is All Brass, No Sass : Jazz: In high school, he sat in with Wynton Marsalis, and his career took off. But he lets his music speak for him.
Heard this one before? Young jazz trumpeter with amazing technique is discovered by a famous mentor. He goes on to gain international acclaim, recording multiple albums a year and appearing around the world with some of the art form’s biggest names. All this before reaching the age of 25.
It’s the Wynton Marsalis story, right? No, but, on the face of it, 25-year-old trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s rapid rise to fame is remarkably similar to Marsalis’ some 15 years ago.
What makes Hargrove’s story different is his propensity for letting his music speak for itself, unlike his friend Marsalis, who has become a brash spokesman for his chosen craft, expressing opinions freely and underscoring his music with words, words, words.
“I’m not into analyzing the music like he is,” said Hargrove in a phone call from his New York home earlier this week. “I don’t know how much can be said about it. I prefer to do my talking with the horn.”
Those who have seen Hargrove perform live, as he does tonight at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, know that, in this sense, he’s well spoken indeed. The rhythmically minded trumpeter can turn a venue as big as the Hollywood Bowl into a raucous revival meeting (as he did a few years back at the Playboy Jazz Festival), or give such staid confines as Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium, where he performed earlier this year, the feel of an intimate, after-hours club.
“Music has always been at the center of my life,” said Hargrove, who was born in Waco, Tex., and raised in Dallas. “As a kid, I listened to rhythm and blues, Top 40, everything there was to be heard on the radio: hip-hop, reggae, basically every style that I could relate to, that I liked, that I could feel . It wasn’t until I was 15 that I began to hear about people like (jazz trumpeters) Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard.”
As a student at Dallas’ Arts Magnet High School, Hargrove initially found a role model in bandleader and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson.
“Most of the trumpet players in school with me were trying to play high notes; everybody wanted to screech, that was the consensus around me. And Maynard Ferguson could play the highest, as far as we knew. We hadn’t heard about people like (Duke Ellington trumpeter) Cat Anderson; we had limited information and hadn’t heard those (Ellington) albums. So, yeah, for a while, Maynard was my man. But then I heard about Clifford Brown.”
Hargrove said the opportunities, and the competition, at the Arts Magnet school were central to his success. “Being able to go there and be around all that talent was very important to me. The program had so many areas of music available--classical, chamber music, brass ensemble, wind ensemble, orchestra, small group jazz, a group for singers--I was surrounded by so much I didn’t know where to start.”
It was at the arts school where Hargrove met fellow trumpeter Marsalis in 1987, an event that kicked his career into motion. “I was 17. He came to the school with his group, and I sat in,” he said. “That’s about it.”
But Marsalis was so impressed with Hargrove’s style that he asked the teen-age trumpeter to sit in with him later that weekend at the Caravan of Dreams performance space in nearby Fort Worth.
Thereafter, Hargrove became a regular at the Caravan, sitting in with the likes of trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard, pianist Herbie Hancock and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.
Word about the new trumpet Wunderkind spread quickly, and that same summer he was invited to tour Europe, where he appeared with saxophonist Frank Morgan, among others. He graduated from high school the following year, then spent the summer playing with organist Jack McDuff and saxophonist Clifford Jordan’s band and making a guest appearance with Art Blakey’s big band at the Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival in Japan.
Hargrove moved to New York in 1990, signed with RCA/Novus, and released four albums in quick succession. Earlier this year, he jumped to Verve, which recently released his debut recording on that label, “The Roy Hargrove Quintet With the Tenors of Our Time.”
The collection finds the trumpeter and his combo teaming with saxophonists, including Stanley Turrentine, Johnny Griffin, Joe Henderson, Branford Marsalis and Joshua Redman. Hargrove said that working with all these different musicians proved to be a challenge.
“I’d played with all of (the saxophonists) before in Europe and various places like the Caravan. They all play the same instrument, but they all have a different style. So the rhythm section had to play differently behind each cat.
“It’s like a painting, you have all these different colors to deal with on the canvas. But you learn a lot playing with these different styles.”
The group concept is important to Hargrove, who, unlike many young players being touted by major labels, prefers to keep the spotlight on the band rather than on himself. His five-member ensemble features drummer Gregory Hutchinson, who joined in 1991, and pianist Peter Martin, saxophonist Ron Blake and bassist Rodney Whitaker, who all came aboard in ’92. They will appear as a unit at OCPAC.
“It’s like the Miles Davis band of the ‘60s or the band before that with Miles and (John) Coltrane,” explained Hargrove. “You spend time together, travel around Europe and Japan and being together in different places, and it starts to come together. You develop a group sound as you become familiar with each other musically and personally.”
These days, Hargrove said he’s spending time writing more music, especially ballads, and considering what it would take to put together a large ensemble (“the determining factor is money”). RCA just released a collection pulled from previous recordings, titled “Approaching Standards,” that gives good insight into Hargrove’s lyrical, considered, often blues-washed style. And he’s going further back into the history of jazz.
“Sure I’m listening to Miles, Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Clifford Brown, all those cats. But I’m definitely moving toward Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Cootie Williams, Ray Nance and Lester Young. There are so many different players, and I don’t want to draw the line. I’ll always be a student of the music. There’s always something more to learn; you never have it all.”
* The Roy Hargrove Quintet and singer Dianne Reeves appear tonight at 8 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tickets $9-$32. (714) 556-2787. Hear Roy Hargrove: * To hear a sample of jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove from the Roy Hargrove Quintet’s latest album, call TimesLine at 808-8463 and press *5590.
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