Trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr. Dies at 61

As leader and sideman, an adventurous player

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

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.

Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin on social media

Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.