Trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr. Dies at 61

As leader and sideman, an adventurous player

Trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr., whose versatility found him playing first with big bands, graduating to bebop and ultimately becoming a favored player among free jazz aficionados, died Jan. 9, according to multiple reports on social media sites. The cause and place of death were not reported. Campbell was 61.

Roy Campbell
By Alan Nahigian
Roy Campbell (l.) with Hamid Drake. Don Cherry is on the projection screen.

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Performing as a leader or with artists including Don Cherry, Matthew Shipp, Hamid Drake, William Parker and Peter Brötzmann, Campbell was praised for his adventurous approach and incorporation of numerous strains of music into his own, including world music, hip-hop and reggae.

Born in Los Angeles in 1952, Campbell’s family moved to New York when he was 2. He learned piano and violin irst while in high school, but by the early 1970s he had switched to trumpet (he also played flugelhorn and flute). Taught by Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Joe Newman, Yusef Lateef and others, Campbell played sessions with Jazzmobile, a nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering the reach of jazz into local communities. Campbell majored in trumpet at Manhattan Community College, but by the time he graduated in 1975 he was already leading his own band, Spectrum, and serving as a sideman. In 1978, he joined Ensemble Muntu, a group led by bassist William Parker.

Campbell’s sideman credits included dates with Marcus Miller, Woody Shaw, Cecil Taylor, John Zorn, Wilbur Ware, Kenny Kirkland, Henry Threadgill, Eddie Harris, Omar Hakim, Billy Bang, Sunny Murray, Rashied Ali, Matthew Shipp and others. Campbell’s own groups included Other Dimensions in Music, Shades and Colors of Trane, Tazz, Pyramid Trio and Downtown Horns. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Campbell relocated to the Netherlands for four years but he returned to New York and continued his career. He also played at times with R&B and pop/rock artists.

Campbell’s first album as a leader was New Kingdom, on the Delmark label, in 1991. He was 39 at the time. His 2001 release Ethnic Stew and Brew was chosen as the number three album of the year by JazzTimes critics.

Campbell was named a “Harlem Unsung Hero” in 2003. He was also an actor, appearing in several plays and films, and scored music for film, theater and television.


  • Jan 10, 2014 at 11:17AM Gyrofrog

    Sorry to hear this, if it's true.

    "according to multiple reports on social media sites. The cause and place of death were not reported."

    This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago with Horace Silver, who it turns out was still entirely alive.

  • Jan 10, 2014 at 12:07PM bashad

    This is true, sorry to confirm it. January 9, 2014. Rest in Peace dear music man. You were loved by many and revered for your music and wisdom. Maybe not rest in total peace. Keep making the music wherever and whoever.... Loved you dearly.

  • Jan 10, 2014 at 05:01PM djangoherbert

    a concert promoter in Austria informed me one hour ago about this sad fact - Roy was booked for an upcoming gig in March with Mark Whitecage and NU Band... I will miss his wonderful tone...RIP

  • Jan 11, 2014 at 01:48PM DaveSoldier

    Roy, what a wonderful gentleman and great explorer and spirit you have always been: for us, you always be those things. I had so been looking forward to spending more time with you and listening to your next phrase on trumpet or your next joke, or both because with you they were sometimes the same thing. Thank you for the time you did spend with each of us and bless you, your passions, and your memory.

  • Jan 13, 2014 at 09:12PM cynthia

    Roy, with sadness, I am looking at five wooden flutes you gave me many years ago, like ones you played. I am in shock, and at a loss for words. I will miss you. Carry on -- this world, this universe , needs your bold and creative spirit still.

  • Jan 15, 2014 at 07:29PM Jazzmaniac2

    I'm shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Roy. A trumpet playing friend that I knew from the High School Of Music & Art where I went introduced me to him. Then as now, I was into jazz history and record collecting. My friend thought that the 2 of us should know each other. He lived up the block and grew up with him in the Bronx. From the first meeting, it was incredible and we became fast friends. Back then in the mid to late 70's, there was no such thing as the internet, cds, Mp3s and all that stuff. He knew and had all the hip Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside and Savoy releases. At that time, none of these records were in print and there were hardly any reissues coming out. He was beautiful enough to let me borrow these rare sides and tape them at home. I learned a lot from him. He was the first cat to pull my coat to Dizzy Reece, Herbie Nichols, Booker Little, Leo Parker, Tommy Turrentine, Sonny Clark and many, many others. I'd leave his house with 2 shopping bags full of records hoping and praying that the bags wouldn't break on the long ride back to Staten Island where I lived. Man, I was in record heaven. It was great because I had records that he didn't have as well. He would come out to my house and leave with a shopping bag of records as well. These record exchanges went on for a few years. Years later, when I started playing professionally and was touring, I was able to find a lot of those records that I had borrowed from him in used record shops. When I went to Japan, I hit the jackpot. I was able to find all the Blue Note things. I ran into him a few years ago at some jazz event. He told me that he had a heart attack, but now was doing well. Of course, we reminisced about the old days and talked about records for a few minutes. He was the same hip, beautiful cat as years before. I'm grateful to him for steering me in the right direction at a critical time in my musical development. If I hadn't crossed paths with him, things may have turned out differently for me. God bless, Roy Campbell. Kenny Washington (The Jazz Maniac)

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