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Dave Douglas Remembers Roy Campbell Jr.

9.29.52 – 1.9.14

Roy Campbell and Dave Douglas (photo: Suzannah P. Kincannon)
Roy Campbell and Dave Douglas (photo: Suzannah P. Kincannon)
Roy Campbell

Roy and I were playing in rival street bands in New York when I met him in 1984. He was about 10 years older than me. The way it worked was that someone would come down early to stake out the best spots: City Hall, Times Square, Astor Place, the Plaza. So Roy and I were from opposing teams and yet Roy was the first trumpeter I met and befriended in the city. He was one of the most enduring and loyal of colleagues; our paths crossed many times, in many ways.

Roy was a majestic player. His range and creativity were always a marvel in ways both technical and emotional. But the thing he had that was so special was that inner fire. You’d see him about to go into the music with his horn and he’d get that sparkle in his eye, that little smile. It was a look that told you this guy knew what he was there for and was ready to go get it. Look out!

The funny thing is, for all the times I played with Roy in multiple trumpet ensembles, he never once played in a competitive or aggressive way. It was always about the music. You had the feeling he was equally psyched about what you or anyone else in the band was doing.

He treated people the same way, and his early encouragement to me eventually led to what became the Festival of New Trumpet Music in New York. I had been asked to book a month of shows at a club called Tonic on the Lower East Side. After a gig where we played with Baikida Carroll, I asked Roy if he had any thoughts about what I should do. He said, “What about all trumpet players?” We got a napkin and made a list of all the great creative players we could think of. There were 32 sets to fill. Before very long we had more than 50 names on the list, and it kept growing. There ended up being way more names than we could include. We knew it was a rich time, but we had no idea just how rich until we made that list.


He came to every board meeting the organization ever had, often fashionably late but always with a handwritten list of ideas he thought we should consider, as well as observations about our mission and our actions. It is heartbreaking to think the organization must go on without him. And, of course, FONT Music was not the only place Roy served the community: Arts for Art, the Vision Festival and many other organizations benefited from his insight, energy and spirit.

Roy’s music went to a lot of places. With William Parker, Matthew Shipp, Rob Brown, Billy Bang, Peter Brötzmann, Daniel Carter, Marc Ribot, Other Dimensions in Music, Yo La Tengo and so many others, Roy traveled the path of the spiritual in music. Styles were no boundary for Roy, and he was explicit in including all music in his sphere of interest. He was a mighty improviser, in music and in life, and in that sense he truly carried the message of music he got under the mentorship of Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham and Joe Newman. He talked about it with all of us-passing on to the next generation all the blessings we received from those before us. The fact that he is gone will inspire us to carry that message in our hearts and share it in our music.

Originally Published