It was a difficult task for me to pick my 10 favorite Roy Hargrove tracks. He meant the world to me as a friend and as a musician, but he meant the world to everyone who knew him, so part of me felt like I should try to pick a “universal 10.” However, that would be too hard as everyone has their own favorites, so I’ve finally whittled it down to my personal 10. I hope you enjoy.
Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring most of the songs mentioned below:
Bobby Watson & Horizon
“Country Corn Flakes” (comp. Bobby Watson)
No Question About It (Blue Note, 1988)
Roy’s first appearance on record. This song led off the album and introduced the next major trumpet star to the world. Even at 19, Roy sounds quite developed. His signature sass and soul shine bright.
“All Over Again” (comp. Hargrove)
Diamond in the Rough (RCA Novus, 1990)
From Roy’s debut solo album. Even by the time of this release, he had been making the rounds with a number of jazz legends, which made many aware of his fiery trumpet playing, but this is an amazing early showcase of his melodic composing. I’ve always loved this song. So hip and swinging, but sweet.
“Alter Ego” (comp. James Williams)
The Vibe (RCA Novus, 1992)
Roy absolutely loved this close-to-being-a-standard by James Williams. From the time he first recorded it until the end of his life, he always kept it in his repertoire. I think I heard him play it with almost every band he ever had.
Roy Hargrove Quintet
“Mental Phrasing” (comp. Hargrove)
With the Tenors of Our Time (Verve, 1994)
Another example of Roy’s postbop, melodic, slick, hip writing. Roy and I shared a love of the compositional styles of Bobby Watson and James Williams, which always had a not-so-hidden trace of classic soul. Many of their songs sounded like a combination of Tadd Dameron and Gamble & Huff. While this is a hardcore swinger, it’s a wink to the harmonic sensibilities of not just Coltrane, but maybe Stevie Wonder too.
“Good Morning, Heartache” (comp. Higginbotham, Drake, Fisher)
Before Me (Verve, 2006)
For all of Roy’s fire, what clearly separated him from his peers was his ability to play ballads. Very few musicians of our generation thoroughly understood the melodic, lyrical, and emotional content of a ballad like him. He never seemed to belabor what to play or consciously channel some other great ballad player; it just flowed out of him. The solo he takes on this made me pull over in my car the first time I heard it.
“Sitting on a Cloud” (comp. McBride)
Gettin’ to It (Verve, 1995)
Roy and I played on a LOT of recordings together. There was no way I couldn’t list something from one of them! Roy absolutely owned this song. And it has a story: In 1998, Roy called me and said, “Yo! I’m watching this movie and they got your tune ‘Sitting on a Cloud’ in it. It’s in the love scene.” I said, “What’s it called?” He said, “I don’t know, but it’s on the Lifetime channel. Hurry up and turn it on! You’ll miss my solo!” I’m thinking, “What are you doing watching the Lifetime channel?” Anyway, I couldn’t find it. Roy called back later and I told him I missed it. He said, “But it’s hip that your tune—and my solo—got in a movie!” I later found out the movie was called Mixing Nia.
The Roy Hargrove Quintet
“Strasbourg/St. Denis” (comp. Hargrove)
Earfood (Decca, 2008)
Perhaps the hardest thing for any jazz artist to accomplish in the last half-century has been to compose a standard. I think it’s safe to say that Roy did that with this song. There is not one single high school or college band I’ve heard that doesn’t play or list this song as one of their favorites. It’s managed to transcend every style of jazz. A combination of hip-hop groove and phrasing with unmistakable swing at its core.
“Spanish Joint” (comp: D’Angelo/Hargrove)
Voodoo (Virgin, 2000)
Roy didn’t just participate on one of the most important pop/soul records of our time—he was one of the reasons why it became such an important record. When you think of horns in a funk or soul band, the standard has always been the razor-sharp styles of James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang, and Parliament/Funkadelic. Roy helped change that to a more mellow, sophisticated sound, while still remaining rhythmically unpredictable. Listen to any modern neo-soul or hip-hop tracks that are infused with multi-trumpet horn sections; the densely orchestrated sound you hear comes straight from Roy’s arranging on this album.
“Roy Allan” (comp. Hargrove)
Family (Verve, 1995)
Another song of Roy’s that I believe is in the running to become a standard. He later, of course, wrote a big-band arrangement of this song, dedicated to his late father, which is breathtaking. It’s a fine example of Roy’s compositional amalgam of hardcore jazz with sensibilities of ’70s soul-jazz and, dare I say, a little smooth jazz. One of my favorites of his.
“Take Love Easy” (comp. Ellington/ Latouche)
May the Music Never End (Verve, 2003)
When we were on the road together in the early ’90s, Roy spent hours learning lyrics from recordings of Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Betty Carter, and more. He understood that singers held the key to musical maturity. One of his favorite singers to play with was Shirley Horn—and who could sing a ballad like Shirley? With Roy being the lone horn on this record, I think it’s safe to say that Shirley loved him as much as he loved her. I picked this track but frankly, the entire album is a masterpiece. As we say goodbye to our friend Roy, let us also say—to quote the title of this, Shirley’s final studio album—“may the music never end.”