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.
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.