Was lucky enough to catch Roy Hargrove at the famous New Morning jazz club in Paris last Saturday. One of my heroes when it comes to trumpet playing and music in general: not only has he worked across genres from jazz masters like Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis to hip hop legend D’Angelo, but he talks, thinks, and teaches about music in a way that’s almost philosophical. And he’s fun; at the New Morning show he actually stopped part way through a song, put his trumpet down, and started dancing, motioning for the saxophone player (Justin Robinson – a beast) to do the same. For a couple of nearly fifty-year old musicians, they had some moves.
One of the coolest things about Roy is his stage presence. I mean, outside of the raw sophistication and thrill of his soloing, there is such a grippingly visual aspect to his performance. Since starting work on this jazz video archive, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to what can be gained from watching jazz as opposed to just listening to it, and Roy is a shining example of why jazz is so important to see. First off, his style – he tends to wear well-cut, light-colored suits, paired with big, athletic sneakers. He literally embodies the jazz-hip hop aesthetic in his outfit. And if he doesn’t have sunglasses on when he walks out on set (indoors, in a basement-like jazz club), he’ll probably pull them out at some point, maybe while he’s dancing. Then, he’s never just standing around, looking like he’s bored or even waiting. Roy always appears to be listening. If he’s finished soloing, he turns his body and fixes his gaze on the next player, intently watching them take a chorus. Or he might walk off stage and give the spotlight entirely to someone else. Or (and he did this several times), he’ll go sit by the drummer and tap on the drums with him. And whisper to audience members, less than two feet away. And just… be interesting. Everything he did had some kind of intention behind it. A relaxed intention, to be sure; he always looks laid back and content. But definitely like he had a handle on the performance the entire time. He engaged audience attention and controlled it very well, never looking like he was really trying that hard to do so.
And then the music was amazing. I’m biased towards his composition “Strasbourg/St. Denis,” because I’ve watched his 2007 New Morning performance of it on YouTube hundreds of times (not an exaggeration). And of course, he performed it now, 10 years later in 2017, because he wrote it across the street from the club (the nearest Paris metro station is literally called “Strasbourg – St. Denis”). And it was fresh, even though I’ve heard it so much, because, of course, this is jazz: every performance is going to be different. This time around, Roy played the head and then grabbed a cowbell, and had a contest with the drummer (Quincy Phillips). Roy would play a rhythm, and the drummer would spit it right back, not after him, but with him. It was amazing. Eventually, they both stopped, leaving the piano player to do a solo that was truly solo. Nobody else in the band played, but the audience was clapping on beat the whole way through (the nice thing about a jazz audience is that they stay on beat, too). Suddenly, the whole group was back in an explosion of sound, and Roy and Justin took the head to finish out the piece.
Going to see this trumpeter at this jazz club felt like a sort of pilgrimage to me as a musician, so I had to post about it. Some video clips of the performance are already up, check them out on YouTube.