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Roy Hargrove: Groovin’ Hard

Roy Hargrove
Roy Hargrove
Roy Hargrove

It’s Grammy Night, late, and the party has hit a groove.

The house is tight-packed but loose with movement: heads bobbing, hands in the air, bodies in fluid time. Onstage, Jaguar Wright and Musiq (Soulchild) lean into each other-now crooning, now crying, their vocal lines snakelike and intertwined. Sitting tall at the drums, the Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson whips a crackling backbeat; to his left, Me’Shell NdegéOcello hangs back on bass. James Poyser presides over a keyboard rig.

In the background, the party’s photogenic hip-hop superstar hosts-grinning, velour-clad Common and Afro-wigged Erykah Badu-nod appreciatively, taking in both sound and scene. Beside them, a shadow appears in the wings. He seems literally peripheral-unnoticeable and almost nervous, fingers flickering over the valves of his horn. But within moments the singers retreat, leaving center stage clear, and the mysterious figure steps out into the spotlight. His ensuing solo consists of two quick choruses-but in that space, phrase by tasty phrase, something steadily builds.

By the time Roy Hargrove sounds his last blast, the crowd is literally screaming for more.

There’ll be more; the B.B. King Blues Club stage won’t go quiet until after 4 a.m. Along the way, Badu and Common’s post-Grammy jam session unfolds like a soul relay, as musicians trade places midsong, never dropping a beat or stopping a groove. The parade of artists comes to include flak-jacketed soul crier Anthony Hamilton, R&B crooner Bilal and a leather-clad, brassy-voiced Jill Scott. Gospeldelic songsmith Raphael Saadiq grabs the bass for a spell. Rappers Talib Kweli and Mos Def take turns at the microphone, the latter joined by singer India.Arie. But Hargrove, having said his piece, never returns to the stage. His cameo hangs in memory only: preserved in afterimage, receding into night.

What does any of this have to do with jazz?

Everything, or nothing, depending on your vantage.

We can probably all agree that Roy Hargrove has, for over a decade, embodied and helped embolden the jazz mainstream. But with Hard Groove (Verve), an album brimming with the sounds of hip-hop, R&B and soul, the 33-year-old trumpeter stands poised to challenge our conception of what today’s “jazz mainstream” can be.

And that’s where things get tricky, fast.

“Rhythm and blues music is ‘new’ as well. It is contemporary and has changed, as jazz has remained the changing same. Fresh Life. R&B has gone through evolution, as its singers have, gotten ‘modern,’ taken things from jazz, as jazz has taken things from R&B.”-Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), 1966

On the surface, the ascent of Roy Hargrove describes a sort of modern jazz myth. It was in 1987 that the trumpeter, then a high school student in Dallas, famously caught the ear of Wynton Marsalis. This imprimatur helped carry Hargrove to the Berklee College of Music, then to the Novus imprint of RCA, which released his first record at age 20. Conventional wisdom, and more than a few press releases, pegged the trumpeter as one of the era’s sharp-suited 20-somethings, cast in a post-Marsalis mold. (It was Hargrove’s manager, Larry Clothier, who conceived of “Jazz Futures,” a package tour featuring the trumpeter in a congress of his peers.)

Hargrove himself seemed to fulfill this “young lion” promise over the course of the decade, with a string of smart hard-bop excursions. By the end of the ’90s he’d garnered a Grammy for the Cuban-fusion effort Habana (Verve). The past few years have found him leading his tight working band and touring with Directions in Music, an all-star unit with Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker that is patterned after the ’60s Miles Davis Quintet. (Their self-titled debut on Verve scored two Grammys this year.)

But this tidy trajectory offers only a partial truth. Like fellow Jazz Futures alumnus Christian McBride, Hargrove has nursed a lifelong infatuation with funk, hip-hop, gospel and soul. Some of his earliest mentors were rhythm-and-blues-savvy jazzmen like David “Fathead” Newman and James Clay (both Texas tenors and veterans of the Ray Charles Orchestra); some of his earliest heroes included George Clinton and Prince. Coming up in Dallas, the trumpeter played more than his share of church music and simmering R&B. And every once in a while-on an errant album track or at a given point in a concert-those affinities were fleetingly revealed.

The turn of the century was pivotal for Hargrove. Amid much fanfare, the trumpeter appeared on Voodoo (Virgin), an album by R&B singer-auteur D’Angelo that debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 and garnered near-universal critical acclaim. Hargrove toured with D’Angelo in the spring of 2000, playing to audiences of thousands in venues like the Paramount Theatre in Oakland and Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Soon afterward, he made significant contributions to high-profile records by Common (Like Water for Chocolate, MCA) and Erykah Badu (Mama’s Gun, Motown). Last year he appeared with the Soultronics, D’Angelo and others on an AIDS-fundraising tribute to Afro-beat king Fela Kuti (Red Hot + Riot, MCA). With each successive project, Hargrove established a greater presence outside jazz’s porous perimeter.

More significantly, he had tapped into a powerful current of modern music, a stream with many tributaries but a single source. Characterized by a focus on artistry, an awareness of history and a sense of cultural responsibility, this musical subgenre-actually, a network of subgenres-has emerged and flourished, mainly in the past half-decade. It’s most often described, conveniently and inadequately, as “neosoul”; its primary practitioners include, among others, the Roots, D’Angelo, Common and Badu.

“I think it really is a movement,” observes Russell “The Dragon” Elevado, the studio engineer with whom these artists have been most entwined. (He calls from a cell phone en route to Philly, where he’ll be mixing new material by Jaguar Wright.) “All these people had a vision, and they’re finding people of the same vision, at the same time. I think where it stems from is these hip-hop grooves-and it’s coming out of the old ’70s funk records, and R&B. But I think hip-hop was the one element to fuse these people together.”

In his book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Paul Gilroy cites a statement made in the early ’90s by the legendary producer and erstwhile jazz trumpeter Quincy Jones: “Hip-hop is in many ways the same as bebop, because it was renegade-type music. It came from a disenfranchised subculture that got thrown out of the way. They said, ‘We’ll make up our own life. We have our own language.'”

But that language has mutated, in ways that now problematize Jones’ statement. The “renegade-type” spirit of mainstream hip-hop has graduated to the level of a commodity, its iconography sometimes as ominous as a diamond-studded medallion dangling over a bulletproof vest. Rap-a genre purportedly obsessed with realness-has mostly succumbed to the power of image, the hum of the corporate machinery and the public’s insatiable appetite for violence.

By contrast, alternative hip-hop figures like Common, the Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Dead Prez, among others, tend to emphasize issues of community, artistic integrity, political engagement and positive human interaction. Their music is renegade in both form and content. It’s a self-conscious reclamation of hip-hop as an aesthetic pursuit, in the way that bebop was an attempted reclamation of jazz during the waning big-band swing era. So if Quincy Jones’ words hold any water today, these are the people with their hands on the faucet.

It makes a certain sense, then, that Roy Hargrove-perhaps our era’s most capable steward of the bebop flame-should so easily step into the realm of underground hip-hop and neosoul. His genuine fondness for “classic” hip-hop and golden-era soul puts him in step with the new breed; conversely, the neosoulers’ love of live musicianship and jazz artistry endears him to them.

Hargrove’s entering the fold at a time when the movement is making serious inroads into the mainstream culturally, if not always commercially. Early last year, the Roots even played Lincoln Center (a circumstance that surprisingly drew no public outcry, not even from Stanley Crouch). On this year’s Grammy ceremony, they served as a backing band for Eminem; their version of the hit “Lose Yourself” included a sly nod to old-school heroes Run-DMC. The same ceremony saw Badu outfitted in a Dead Prez T-shirt, accepting a best R&B song award for “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop),” which also featured Common and Raphael Saadiq. Finally, this year’s Grammy Awards included, for the first time, an “urban/alternative performance” category-and if the nomenclature doesn’t seem like code for “neosoul,” consider that the nominees were Badu with Common, Saadiq with D’Angelo, Floetry, Cee-Lo and India.Arie. (Everyone except D’Angelo and Cee-Lo would appear onstage later that night at B.B. King’s.)

It’s four days after the Grammys.

A narrow flight of stairs leads up to the small but well-esteemed SoHo performance space that Roy Hargrove once used as a practice loft. The Jazz Gallery now operates as a nonprofit, programmed and run by the trumpeter’s longtime business manager, Dale Fitzgerald. Dusk is falling outside, but it’s still a couple of hours before set time, so the space is empty of patrons. It’s church-quiet, save for “My Foolish Heart,” which Hargrove is playing haltingly, but thoughtfully, on the club’s storied Baldwin grand.

“It’s definitely growing,” the trumpeter says of the musical community that was in force at B.B. King’s, punctuating his comment with a quick laugh. “More people joining the ranks.” The sense of coiled anticipation that suffuses Hargrove’s onstage demeanor is now barely perceptible. Garbed in a sky-blue tracksuit, with dreadlocks concealed in a matching tam, he’s the picture of nonchalant ease. But the trumpeter also keeps his game face, eyes cast toward a middle distance. Perched on a pivoting stool, he swings gently from side to side. (“Just so you know,” one record label insider had cautioned, “Roy has a reputation for being aloof.”)

But Hargrove is nothing if not an active listener, and his responses are often animated. Asked about the presence of Prince and George Clinton at the Grammy party, his eyes grow wide. “Hadn’t met Prince before,” he marvels. “And I met him that night. Which was… cosmic! He was standing this close-a foot-and he was talking to Erykah. He had his back to me. He turned around and I was like”-he mimics an expression of awe, jaws unhinged. “Then he talks to me. He’s like, ‘Man! We gotta do some stuff!’ Too heavy.” And as for the Parliament/Funkadelic chairman: “That was really something. ‘Man, this is George Clinton, he’s standing right here!'”

The fact that these two musical icons converged in one night seems almost a celestial omen, rendering Hargrove star-struck in more than the usual sense. As for the traits that those icons embody-popular artistry, outsized personality and a transformative synthesis of musical styles-they’re an obvious precursor to the tenets of the neosoul crowd.

Because of this shared vision, Hargrove has eluded the charge of dilettantism: He’s not a jazz tourist slumming within their ranks. “They have a high regard for him,” keyboardist Marc Cary affirms, referring to the party’s neosoul all-stars. “I was backstage. They saw Roy-man, people’s eyes lit up. Everybody had a smile. It was really nice, to see the level of respect that he gets and demands. And all the people that came through had a beautiful vibe. It was real folklike.”

Hargrove puts it in another light: “I got to meet a lot of people. Musiq (Soulchild) was talking to me about the Directions in Music album. And I was like, ‘Wow-you checking that out?’ You never know what’s on a cat’s mind.”

Clearly, Hargrove’s own mind has long embraced more strands of music than his discography might attest. “I think that music is so spread out,” he muses. “There’s so many different worlds within music to be explored. Why limit yourself to just one? When I was going to school at Berklee I noticed that there were a lot of cliques that had established themselves. There’s group A, group B, divisions and then subdivisions. Because in the funk world you would have the straight-up fusion cats, and then you have cats that play behind straight-up R&B, and then you would have gospel in the middle of that. And in jazz, you would have cats who only played like Bird, bebop. And then the Trane cats. And you would have the progressive guys who were more into original music. So it was wild for me, because I would just go in and out of each one of these. I just never believed in limiting yourself to one way of playing.”

Drummer-producer G. Craig Glanville, better known in music circles as Butter, echoes this recollection. “A lot of the jazz cats were very closed-minded,” he contends. “Me and Roy hit it off because my uncle was Dizzy Gillespie. But my thing was always more urban-contemporary music. We started doing hip-hop jazz tracks back in ’89, ’90, ’91. I’ve got old tapes of some of the stuff we were doing down there in the basement. We were comparing it to Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, what that album was for that era. Or some of what Miles was doing. This is the same thing, only now it’s more hip-hop-infused. We were doing that back then.”

Other collaborative efforts took place after Hargrove moved to New York, and with the benefit of hindsight, one in particular stands out. “The first time I got together with Roy, it was in his loft,” recalls alto saxophonist Steve Coleman. “Nobody else was there. And we just took out our horns and played. The first thing I noticed was, ‘Man, this guy has got some great ears.’ And great feel, and he’s a great talent.”

This was the early ’90s, and Coleman, then Hargrove’s labelmate on RCA, had emerged as the force behind M-BASE, a progressive collective spanning the music of the African diaspora. Hargrove rehearsed once with Coleman’s band, then took part in a live studio session that would yield a head-turning funk-fusion album, The Tao of Mad Phat: Fringe Zones. In the audience at that session were Tariq Trotter, Ahmir Thompson and Malik B.-members of a group that would later be known as the Roots. Soon afterward Coleman scheduled another RCA session incorporating these new contributors, along with Hargrove.

“It was an experimental thing,” the trumpeter recalls of this encounter. “He had ’em rhyming in five and seven and shit!” He laughs. “We did three songs for a demo, and nothing ever happened after that.” But a decade later, Thompson, better known as ?uestlove, stands as one of the bridges linking Hargrove’s established jazz identity with the forefront of neosoul. He’s served this purpose ever since helping the trumpeter aboard D’Angelo’s Voodoo train.

“That was really great, man,” Hargrove says of the Voodoo tour, leaning forward intently. “It was a spiritual experience playing with that group. Because every time we’d play, we’d have a prayer. And it was really uplifting. Made you want to go out there and do your best. Also, the level of talent that was in the band was crazy. I mean, as far as the singers went, each one of them had their own individual vibe. You know, that lent itself to what ‘D’ was doing just perfectly. That all fit in together like a glove. Like a well-fitted suit”-he laughs-“you know, tailored and whatnot. And the rhythm section was ridiculous. And then the horn section was all the jazz guys-me and Frank Lacy, Jacques Schwarz-Bart, Russell Gunn. And so, man, you could imagine what was going on behind the scenes when we weren’t playing-the kind of interaction because of all the different worlds. You know, you had, like, straight-up church cats. And then you had some guys that were more pop. And then you had jazz. And it was all mixed together, the different vibes. I don’t think everybody really realized what it was when it was going on. But I could see that it was very, very special. It was like a revival.”

Compared with his usual role as a frontman and soloist, Hargrove’s part in the road show was peripheral. But the intensity of each night’s crowd was a powerful motivating force. “It made you want to play,” he says, looking back. “Even if you had one note to play in 16 bars, you play the hell out of it.” He also marveled at D’Angelo’s killer instincts as a performer and the level of professionalism during the tour. “I could see exactly how it was being done at a high level, as far as the number of people that were there to see it, and just the groove being played by the band. Some of the things they were doing really got in my ears. It was just like another piece of information to add to the booklet. I feel fortunate because I’ve been in a lot of situations that have also been educational as well as fulfilling, playing-wise. And that was one of them. ‘Cause I felt like I was on the road with James Brown or somebody. Or Al Green. I felt like that. Like, the real thing.” He laughs again. Then, turning serious: “It inspired me a lot being in that situation, and sort of got me ready to do this record.”

“I would love to see a marriage of all the music that black people create. Instead of sampling old musicians, why not play with new musicians in the studio together?”-Jimmy Heath, panel discussion, “Is Jazz Influencing Hip-Hop?” Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, February 2003

Hargrove’s sprawling vision for Hard Groove was captured over the course of two remarkable weeks at Electric Lady Studios, the Greenwich Village recording space built by Jimi Hendrix. “I had gotten some nice vibrations from working in there before with Russ Elevado,” Hargrove explains. Elevado and assistant engineer Steve Mandel had recorded and mixed Voodoo in its entirety; the album was named in Hendrix’s honor. They now set up the boards for Hargrove, who initially arrived with just Marc Cary and Butter in tow. They weren’t alone for long. “Me’Shell [NdegéOcello] was in town,” Hargrove recalls, “so she came down with her drummer Gene Lake, and we started the record from there. We did probably four or five songs that day. And then it was a whirlwind after that.”

That whirlwind would come to include dozens of musicians and countless surprises. Although he had notated some songs on sheet music and arranged certain ideas in preproduction, Hargrove left ample wide-open space for the spirits, and his cohorts, to fill. Among them were Cary and Butter, Hargrove’s regular drummer, Willie Jones III, and Soultronics members James Poyser and Pino Palladino on keyboards and bass, respectively. In an unusual move for any urban recording, Hargrove insisted on cutting only first and second takes. Even stranger, the foundation of nearly every track, simultaneously featuring two drummers and an array of other sonic layers, was recorded with live instruments in real time.

“The whole thing was just one creative night after another,” the trumpeter recalls. “The entourage started growing, ’cause people were hearing about us down in the studio. Guys were just dropping by. So the budget went out of control, ’cause there were some people who just came by who I put on the record, because the music was perfect for them.”

One such gift was Anthony Hamilton, who Hargrove knew from the Voodoo tour; he delivered an imploring two-part ballad called “Kwah/Home.” Another D’Angelo backup singer, Shelby Johnson, applied her luxurious alto to a luminous soul number called “How I Know.” (She wrote lyrics in a studio hallway.) Jacques Schwarz-Bart played tenor saxophone on a number of tracks, and contributed the tight “Forget Regret,” with vocals by Stephanie McKay. And Steve Coleman, apprised of the session by bassist Reggie Washington, dove into Hargrove’s “Out of Town,” a multitonal funk burnout that almost sounds like one of his own. Similar instances took place throughout the studio run. “It would be like 12 midnight and cats show up, man,” remembers Marc Cary. “And the whole thing starts over again.”

Other visits had been planned in advance. Several days in, Hargrove welcomed a cadre of “Texas cats”; they came to the studio from the airport, bags in hand. Among them were funk-fusion pianist Bernard Wright; rhythm-and-blues guitar veteran Chalmers “Spanky” Alford; session-guitar ace Cornell Dupree; and the Keith Anderson Trio, comprised of drummer Jason Thomas and gospel/soul-jazz keyboardist Bobby Sparks. “Texas musicians have a different approach to playing,” asserts Anderson, a tenor saxophonist whose relationship with Hargrove dates back to junior high. “It’s not from a mechanical standpoint.” Sparks, who serves as musical director for contemporary gospel star Kirk Franklin, further clarifies: “The way we play is not based upon what we see on paper. It’s based all on feeling and listening. And that’s how Roy plays.” The deep and unforced groove of these Dallas-based musicians, until now an undocumented strand in Hargrove’s musical DNA, would come to define much of the album.

In many regards, though, the defining contributions on Hard Groove will be those of D’Angelo, Common, Q-Tip and Badu. The latter two artists share a track called “Poetry,” backed by NdegéOcello, Lake and Cary. Q-Tip’s lyric on the head is sinewy and self-referential; it leads to a masterfully realized trumpet dialogue (Hargrove, overdubbed), which in turn leads to the gently beat-tripping final section, featuring a lovely metaphysical hook by Badu. Powerful, playful and catchy, “Poetry” fulfills the promise of Hargrove’s neosoul gambit on every front.

Similar claims can be made for “Common Free Style,” a track coproduced by James Poyser with Common in mind. It so happened that Common was upstairs at Electric Lady’s Studio B mixing his album Electric Circus (MCA), while Hargrove and crew were downstairs in Studio A. Hargrove finally got him in the booth around five one morning, and the rapper improvised a pitch-perfect narrative brimming with whimsical braggadocio, all in just one take. “Bam, it was done,” Hargrove says, still marveling. “I did an extra take just so I could believe that it really happened. So then I had the dilemma of trying to figure out which one I was going to use. He slammed both of ’em.” The jazz undertones of this virtuoso performance are hard to ignore.

D’Angelo’s cameo vibrates with another kind of energy. The soul singer entered Studio A after midnight one Sunday, as saxophonist Karl Denson was leading some 15 musicians in an Afro-beat jam. “He comes in and just starts dancing in the control room, ’cause the energy is so happening,” recalls Jason Olaine, A&R man for Verve and a coproducer of the album. “Then once the cut’s done he goes in and says hi to everybody. It kind of disintegrates into this hang for the next two hours, where everybody’s kicking it on couches and kind of discussing what it is they’re going to do.” Although Hargrove had prepared a Bill Henderson tune for the soul singer, they ended up playing an impromptu cover of Funkadelic’s “I’ll Stay.” Cut to tape in just a couple of takes, the George Clinton song simmers with late-night sensuality and mystique.

While the improvisational spirit of these sessions was familiar to its jazz participants, the logistics were often foreign. “The whole project was very challenging for me,” Hargrove admits. “Usually when we make jazz records I just go in with the cats and we hit. And play like we’re playing a set, and then it’s done in a couple of days. But this was a lot more involved; I had to take the position of almost being a band director.” For the most part, his light touch as a producer was a relief to the players. Sparks recalls: “It was raw, real raw. I loved it. The drums, everybody was set up in one room. I think that’s the way music should be done.” Yet Hargrove managed to shape the proceedings, however subtly. “It was kind of loose,” Schwarz-Bart offers. “But Roy has a talent for organizing chaos.”

Still, not all were relaxed in the studio. “It was pretty exhausting,” admits Elevado, whose challenges as engineer and coproducer were multiplied by the quick instrumental shifts and unpredictable vibe. He adds: “Roy knew his budget didn’t give us a lot of time to breathe.” Olaine, whose record-producing credits span the jazz gamut, describes the project’s looseness as a potentially harrowing experience. “Honestly, I didn’t know what Roy was doing half the time,” he says laughingly. “I was getting gray hair, seeing days tick by and studio hours getting racked up and tape being rolled, and thinking: ‘What are we going to get out of this?'”

In biology, the RH Factor involves a protein substance found in most human red blood cells; “RH” refers to the laboratory Rhesus monkeys that led to the discovery of the stuff. If RH-positive blood is transfused into an RH-negative individual, serious problems can occur.

Hargrove’s RH Factor band faces a somewhat similar risk. Hard Groove, although brimming with jazz energies, is not a jazz album exactly, and it could be met with hostility by conservative listeners. To cite one extreme but hardly isolated example: Stanley Crouch recently generalized hip-hop, in JazzTimes, as a “minstrel update.” (He has been less charitable in other forums.) Less political but no less problematic is the widespread fear of jazz’s dilution by pop elements, best exemplified by the jazz world’s ambivalence about the ascendance of Norah Jones, Hargrove’s fellow Grammy-winner and Booker T. Washington High School alum.

Olaine seems to be considering such outcry when he says, “Roy is by nature a jazz musician, and will continue making jazz records. Probably his biggest concern was that he really didn’t want to alienate his core jazz audience, the people that have been going to see him in clubs and festivals and buying his records over the years. So he really wanted to make it clear that this is part of what the Roy Hargrove picture is, but he’s not going to abandon his jazz roots. In fact, let’s not call this a Hargrove record; let’s call this RH Factor. That was Roy’s decision all the way.” On a night this winter when Hargrove fell ill and couldn’t make a Village Vanguard set, his working band, led by alto saxophonist Justin Robinson, burned convincingly through Charlie Parker-vintage bop. The bulk of the group’s repertoire with Hargrove is still modern jazz, sharply arranged.

In at least one important regard, the RH Factor bears similarities with the Quintet. The new project, unclassifiable by any particular genre designation, seems threaded with the common strand of African-American expression. “To me it’s some black music, man,” Cary says definitively. “Roy just took an approach on black music, and twisted it around.” His declaration is echoed by most of the other musicians from the session. If Hargrove himself doesn’t express it in words, he seems to do so with music; the album ends on a 20-second excerpt of churning, polyrhythmic African percussion, in a subtle and positive affirmation of the album’s creative wellspring.

The looming question is whether Hard Groove can reach beyond jazz into the fan base of hip-hop and neosoul. Elevado says, “I think people who like organic hip-hop will gravitate toward this record-if they get a chance to hear it. My concern about this album is that it’s really good, but I just hope it’s being heard by the masses.” Whether that happens is an issue full of subtle complications. Elevado may describe Hard Groove as “Voodoo, in a jazz vein,” but D’Angelo-level sales are a frankly preposterous goal. Voodoo topped the charts in part because of a body-baring video by its chiseled auteur; Hargrove’s project probably won’t yield a video, or even an easy radio single.

The last album to blend elements of hip-hop, funk and jazz in truly concerted fashion was Q-Tip’s Kamaal the Abstract-and it was deemed insupportable by Arista, which never released the CD. For similar reasons, the RH Factor may be too nuanced for mainstream consumption. But among neosoul’s hardcore fan base-enthusiasts who pore over track listings with the obsessive eye of a bebop fanatic-the album could make a serious connection. If this audience is itself a sort of fringe society, it’s a formidable fringe. The relatively modest sales figures recently set by Common and the Roots would be a windfall for any record filed under jazz.

“They say they’ve got it figured out,” Hargrove says of his record label’s promotional effort. “That’s what they’re saying.” He looks none too convinced. Elevado sounds a similar note: “I think the higher-ups at Verve are not exactly understanding what Roy is doing. But Jason Olaine has a really good sense of the project-and I’m putting all of my hope in him.”

Olaine owns up to the label’s limited resources and inexperience in the field. “It’s not like we put out soul records and R&B and groove records for a living,” he says. “So we’re going to be kind of going through the growing pains as well, and hiring folks to help us negotiate it.”

What will ultimately carry Hard Groove is simply its vividness, integrity and genuine feeling. Hargrove, who plans on touring with a version of RH Factor in the summer, predicts “a very spiritual experience, uplifting souls and minds.” It sounds in some regards like the vibe at B.B. King’s a few nights prior.

Hargrove says, “The whole point is to give a message that we can come together in different worlds and still be able to create some music. Just imagine what would happen if the R&B cats and the jazz people came together, what kind of music would that be? That would be…heavy!”

He laughs, relishing the thought.

Listening Pleasures

“Well, I just recently, for the first time in a while, had a chance to go shopping for some CDs, and what I’ve been listening to of course is a lot of Miles Davis-Miles in every period that I hadn’t heard before. Partly this is because of going on the road with Herbie [Hancock] and the New Directions band. I rebought a Miles record that I had before, Water Babies. And I bought the 50 Cent album Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I think he has a great style. And he says what he’s feeling. It’s a little violent, but he really means it so I’m not bothered. He’s a guy who tells the truth-that’s why I like him.”


Hargrove plays a flugelhorn (model: Wood) and trumpets (models: Silver Art and Alpha) by Thomas Inderbinen in Buchs, Switzerland. He uses a B6 Monette mouthpiece with all the horns. Originally Published

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content for WBGO and a longtime contributor to JazzTimes, which published 125 installments of his column “The Gig” between 2004 and 2017. For 12 years, he was a critic for The New York Times; prior to that, he wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, the Philadelphia City Paper, and several other publications. He is the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century (2018) and the co-author of George Wein’s autobiography Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003).