You don’t always know what’s behind you.
Roy Hargrove didn’t. Not at first. He’s one of the most important new trumpeters in jazz, but he didn’t know there was a jazz tradition in Dallas until he was ready to leave town.
One of the city’s musical patriarchs was alto saxophone player Buster Smith, who was influential as far back as the 1920s. He was followed by a great procession of Dallas jazz artists, including John Hardee, who played sax so forcefully he was dubbed the Bad Man. Hardee had a shot at tame in New York but renounced it for a quieter life here, as band director at Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School.
That’s where Roy Hargrove first found the groove.
Hardee’s successor at OWH was Dean Hill. Hardee, Hill and certain other Dallas band directors have something in common that sets them apart from the pack. They’ve actually been out there, playing in jazz joints and nightclubs and living on the road. Hill had played in the regionally renowned Soul Seven, and (like Hardee) attended Bishop College. Hargrove may not have known it at the time, but when he met Dean Hill, he tapped directly into the center of Dallas’ musical soul.
"Mr. Hill’s my musical father" acknowledges Hargrove. "He’s a drummer, but can play trumpet like you’d never believe. I used to love to hear him play because he had a really fiery sound.
"He’s the one who showed me how to improvise. He’d show you a lick and then get out of you more than just a series of notes. You’d play it with feeling. He’d tell you, just relate it to your experiences. For instance, he’d say, ’Think about how you feel when you’re with your li’l girlfriend, ’ and that’d come through in your solo. I was the type who wanted to put all I had into every little nuance, and he saw that."
While Hargrove was in high school at Arts Magnet, word spread quickly about his burgeoning talent. And now, at the tender age of 22, his improvisational vigor and fine tone have made him one of the most highly acclaimed young jazz stars.
This year RCA records came calling, so Roy packed his bags and made the big move to New York to pursue a recording career. His albums, Diamond in the Rough and Public Eye, have landed him on talk shows all over the country, and have even garnered praise from The New York Times. His new album, The Vibe, was released last month and is expected to receive the same kind of attention.
Dallas-based guitarist Byron Atkins attended a recent Carnegie Hall concert in which Roy performed with veteran sax strongman Sonny Rollins, and says Roy "stole the show." And, like his new friend Wynton Marsalis, he’s touted as an important role model for aspiring musicians.
What advice can he offer fledgling artists? "Stay dedicated," he says. "Whether it pays off in money or in your own mental integrity, it will pay off. Keep practicing, and stay positive. And lend an ear to tradition."