Hear Him Roar

Dubbed the Young Lion, jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove releases two CDs at once

April 30, 2006|By RASHOD D. OLLISON | RASHOD D. OLLISON,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

NEW YORK -- Is that Roy Hargrove over there?

Standing outside the Jazz Gallery on a breezy, sun-drenched afternoon in Lower Manhattan, the guy sure looks like him from several yards away. But Roy Hargrove is taller -- or so it seems in promotional shots. Outfitted in roomy jeans, a pin-striped navy blue blazer, a Burberry skull cap and aviator shades, the slight, compact man lights a cigarette and drags on it quickly as the reporter approaches the building.

"Roy?"

The jazz trumpeter extends his hand; the cigarette dangles from his lips. "Yeah, man. Go on in. I'll be right back." Then he crosses the busy street.

Behind the heavy door, the steep flight of stairs is dimly lit. At the top, the loft-like space, which serves as a performance spot and cultural center, is rectangular. Foldout chairs and small benches are lined up in front of the boxy stage. The room is so tight, in fact, that no more than 70 people can comfortably fit. Framed black and white photos of jazz artists -- Herbie Hancock hunched over a piano, Nicholas Payton blowing on a gleaming trumpet, Hargrove looking moody with dreadlocks -- adorn the walls.

The door slams, and the artist climbs the stairs. Removing his shades, Hargrove slumps down at the small table that the Jazz Gallery director has pulled out for the interview. He snatches off his cap, revealing matted cornrows. The Grammy-winning artist looks worn out.

"I'm hanging in there, man," he moans. "The devil's busy today. I just try to keep my head in the right direction spiritually and every other way."

Admittedly a nocturnal creature, he's not usually up and about during the afternoon. He's constantly performing, sitting in on late-night jams when he's not playing dozens of gigs around the world, recording with other artists (John Mayer, Erykah Badu, Boz Scaggs, the list goes on) or conducting jazz workshops for schools throughout the country.

And his schedule is about to get busier as the Verve recording star gears up to promote two albums he's releasing simultaneously: Distractions, credited to the RH Factor, is a funk-fusion effort and the follow-up to Hargrove's last set, 2003's Hard Groove. Nothing Serious is by the Roy Hargrove Quintet, and it's the trumpeter's first straight-ahead jazz album in a decade. Both CDs land in stores on Tuesday.

"It was removed from me to do it like that, to put out two albums at the same time," says the Texas-born musician, 36. "I was touring with the RH Factor and the Quintet, and it had been so long since we'd done a straight-ahead album. We wanted something out there that represented what we were doing with both groups."

Connecting the dots

To market the records, the label has come up with a clever ad campaign: "Jazz that grooves and funk that swings," which aptly describes Hargrove's soulful approach.

"The albums are being released individually at an aggressive price point," says John Newscott, senior director of marketing at the Verve Music Group. "That means each CD will be sold at a suggested retail price of $14.98. Normally, jazz records go out at $18.98. The purpose is to accent Roy's dual ability in the worlds of funk and jazz. ... We want to connect those dots for people."

To help with that, each record will have an icon of the other printed underneath the CD's clear tray. The label is expecting strong sales. For a neo-bop instrumentalist, Hargrove usually does well. Each of his five Verve releases (1997's Habana netted a Grammy) has sold about 40,000 copies. Hargrove's biggest seller is Hard Groove, which scanned 75,000 at stores.

Consistent sales aside, the "Young Lion," as he has long been dubbed, is more concerned about adding some warmth and good-time spirit to jazz, something he says the genre desperately needs these days.

"Man, there's a lot of jazz being produced today that -- I don't know," Hargrove says, frowning. "I feel like it may be over people's heads. The swing element is missing, the element that makes people feel good and want to listen to it. There are a lot of cats that feel like they want to prove something, like [jazz] is the Pythagorean Theorem and [stuff]," he says with a chuckle. "They forget that people are listening to it. It's that thing that makes you pop your fingers, and I wanted to bring that back."

That sensitive, lyrical, earthy approach (reminiscent of Donald Byrd and Freddie Hubbard) has always been a part of Hargrove's music. It was even apparent on his stunningly mature debut, 1989's Diamond in the Rough on RCA, recorded when the musician was 20.

Nearly three years before at Dallas' Booker T. Washington School for the Visual and Performing Arts, Hargrove had been discovered by Wynton Marsalis, who was visiting the school for a workshop. The jazz veteran invited the young Texan to sit in with his band and helped Hargrove secure gigs with his musical heroes: Hubbard and Dizzy Gillespie. Before high school graduation, Hargrove had gone to Europe, working with Frank Morgan's band.

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