One of the most gifted jazz musicians of his generation, Roy Hargrove, has died at age 49 after reportedly suffering cardiac arrest.
Besides recording his own series of acclaimed albums, Hargrove became famous among urban music fans in the early 2000s as a member of the collective the Soulquarians, appearing on essential albums like D’Angelo’s “Voodoo,” Common’s “Like Water for Chocolate” and Erykah Badu’s “Mama’s Gun.”
NPR reported that Hargrove, who’d been on dialysis for many years, had been admitted to the hospital for “reasons related to kidney function” at the time of his death. He had been scheduled to perform in New Jersey Saturday night.
“The Great Roy Hargrove: He is literally the one man horn section I hear in my head when I think about music,” wrote Questlove in an Instagram post. “I know I’ve spoken (of) every aspect of Soulquarian era recording techniques but even I can’t properly document how crucial and spot on Roy was with his craft, man. We NEVER gave him instructions: just played the song and watched him go.” Questlove wrote about how you can hear him and other band members screaming and laughing during a Hargrove solo on the Common track “Cold Blooded” because “that’s us MIND BLOWN… We were just reacting in real time to greatness… And a beautiful cat, man. Love to the immortal timeless genius that will forever be Roy Hargrove, y’all.”
Said another key young trumpeter, Keyon Harrold, “My heart again is broken by news of the trumpeter jazz king Roy Hargrove passing on… I was captivated by Roy’s soul,” Harrold wrote on Instagram. “The spirit that radiated from the bell of his horn was always a force of youth enthralled with the wisdom of old. A jazz future to a jazz legend in the eyes of many. One of the people I watched as a benchmark of what I could be as trumpet player musically. The epitome of a soloist. Amazing arranger and composer. A jazz historian… Roy, thank you. You were always the inspiration. You are already missed though you live forever!!!”
Hargrove was nominated for six Grammy Awards and won two — the first in 1998 for “Habana,” an album of Afro-Cuban music he recorded with his band Crisol, and the second in 2002 for “Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall,” a tribute to Miles Davis and John Coltrane on which he collaborated with Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker.
Christian McBride weighed in on Twitter: “I have no words over the loss of my dear brother of 31 years. We played on a lot of sessions together, traveled a lot of miles together, laughed a lot together, bickered on occasion — and I wouldn’t change our relationship for anything in the world. Bless you, Roy Hargrove.”
A Texas native, Hargrove was discovered by Wynton Marsalis when that jazz great was visiting his performing arts high school in Dallas. Hargrove always cited as his primary inspiration David “Fathead” Newman, appreciating his improvisational prowess and saying he felt Newman was “was so soulful and singing through his horn.” His first solo album, “Diamond in the Rough,” appeared in 1990 on Novus, for whom he made eight albums in four years. His career really took off with the 10 albums he recorded for Verve starting in 1994, including several with the RH Factor, a funkier band he formed to meld different styles into jazz.
As a guest musician, Hargrove played on recordings by John Mayer (“Continuum”), Sonny Rollins, Oscar Peterson, Jimmy Smith, Shirley Horn, Marcus Miller, Angelique Kidjo, Ray Brown and dozens of others. Most recently, he was featured on the sophomore album by Blue Note singer/pianist Kandace Springs, released in September.
Although his output as a recording artist in his own right had come to a halt in the 2010s, Hargrove continued to be a prolific live performer through the end of his life. Reviewing a two-week residency in Chicago in January, Downbeat magazine wrote, “Hargrove fosters something of a Miles Davis vibe as relates to fashion, attitude and stagecraft. He avoids announcing tunes, but is less aloof and austere than Davis, sporadically singing and dancing, which Davis never would have countenanced… His dynamic spontaneity tied to a tight focus on the music is why Hargrove is revered; his horns don’t shine like the custom models of Christian Scott and Tunde Adjuah. They are tarnished, well worn.”
Having spoken with Hargrove’s manager, Larry Clothier, NPR reported that Hargrove “had been admitted to the hospital for reasons related to kidney function; he was on dialysis for many years.”
Hargrove advocated for a bigger audience for jazz, even when he was drawing what most in the medium would consider sizable crowds. Downbeat reported that the trumpeter refused to take accolades for filling the house during his two-week residency in January, saying: “You talk as though that’s a big deal. Back in the day, they used to play for much longer periods of time, which really helped to solidify the way the band sounded. It should be a month — it should be more. It’s not enough. Everywhere it’s not enough. But we can’t get people to really support jazz like that. People don’t come out to hear live music as much as they used to.”