You’ve got to wonder what kind of musician would even think to take a 19-piece band into the studio and out on the road, especially with the nation’s current economic condition, That kind of musician would be ROY HARGROVE, the veteran jazz trumpeter and composer whose first big band album, Emergence (Groovin’ High/Emarcy), is released August 25th. “At this point this is probably the worst thing I could ever do, financially speaking,” admits Hargrove. “But it’s something that needs to be done, spiritually and musically speaking.”
For Hargrove, whose previous release, 2008’s quintet session Earfood (Groovin’ High/Emarcy), found its way into dozens of jazz critics’ year-end Top 10 lists, recording Emergence was not some crazy impulse decision but rather the realization of a dream. The Texas-born musician assembled the first incarnation of the big band back in 1995 for a New York jazz festival, then returned to the format on a more frequent basis several years ago. Regular bookings at The Jazz Gallery, a not-for-profit performance space in lower Manhattan, gave Hargrove the opportunity to fine-tune the concept. He says, “The Jazz Gallery is for up-and-coming young players. I go around to jam sessions a lot, sit in with cats, and I think that the new generation doesn’t have a lot of experience playing in sections and playing in big bands. So this provides younger guys with a sense of camaraderie that is not really evident anymore in jazz.”
The 11-track Emergence documents the present state of the Roy Hargrove Big Band’s ongoing evolution. In addition to Hargrove on trumpet and flugelhorn, the ensemble consists of four other trumpet players (Frank Greene, Greg Gisbert, Darren Barrett, Ambrose Akinmisure), four trombonists (Jason Jackson, Vincent Chandler, Saunders Sermons, and Max Seigel on bass trombone), five reedists (Bruce Williams, alto saxophone and flute; Justin Robinson, alto and flute; Norbert Stachel, tenor sax and flute; Keith Loftis, tenor and flute; and Jason Marshall, baritone sax and flute), as well as pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Danton Boller, guitarist Saul Rubin, drummer Montez Coleman and percussionist Roland Guerrero. Vocalist Roberta Gambarini contributes her vocal charms to two tracks. Emergence was recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood with Hargrove and his manager Larry Clothier producing and the multi-Grammy winner Al Schmitt engineering and mixing.
Since his own emergence in the late ’80s, Hargrove has led several diverse configurations, including the straight-ahead, hard-bop Roy Hargrove Quintet and Crisol, an Afro-Cuban ensemble that won a Grammy in 1998 for Best Latin Jazz Performance with its album Habana. With the funk-oriented RH Factor, Hargrove released the 2003 album Hard Groove, featuring guest appearances by R&B superstars Erykah Badu, Common and D’Angelo. But the big band affords Hargrove a long-awaited chance to indulge in his lifelong affection for the expansive sounds created by Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Maynard Ferguson and Gerald Wilson, all of whom he cites as influences. “The small group has been such a big deal for so long in jazz that people forget where the small groups came from,” says Hargrove, who has already showcased the Big Band in such high-profile venues as the Hollywood Bowl and SummerStage in New York’s Central Park.
For the album’s repertoire, Hargrove sifted through his book of original compositions and favorite interpretations to come up with a well balanced mix of ballads and swingers, Latin jams and Tin Pan Alley standards. “Velera,” which opens the album, is a majestic Hargrove ballad, originally appearing on his 1995 Family album that borrows its title from Roy’s mother’s middle name. It leads into “Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey,” composed by band member Jason Marshall. “I said to the band, ‘If any of you guys are writing anything, lay it on me,’” says Hargrove, “and Jason came forward. I like it because it’s the blues. I like the shuffle. I’m from Texas. ”
Born in Waco in 1969, Hargrove attended Booker T. Washington High School, a performing arts school in Dallas, where he first tuned in to trumpet greats such as Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis and Lee Morgan. During a visit to the school Wynton Marsalis allowed Hargrove to sit in with his band and encouraged the young musician to pursue a career in music. A few years later, having spent one year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Hargrove settled in New York, where he attended the New School’s Jazz and Contemporary Music School and launched his career in earnest.
Hargrove’s debut quintet album, Diamond in the Rough, was released in 1990 on the Novus label. In 1994, signed to Verve, he released the critically lauded Roy Hargrove With the Tenors of Our Time, on which he hosted some of his favorite saxophonists. Family included guest spots by two other Hargrove heroes, saxist David “Fathead” Newman and pianist John Hicks, and the following year’s Parker’s Mood was a tribute to Charlie Parker. By that time, Hargrove was already topping critics’ polls for his trumpet skills, winning Grammys and lending his skills to recordings by other artists, in addition to maintaining his own busy recording and performance schedule.
With every endeavor he undertakes, Hargrove gives it his all—he’s a tireless seeker with a hunger to explore both the music of the present and the past. The first of three standards on Emergence, Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” was arranged for the band by one of the trombonists, Max Seigel. “He brought that in on Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago,” says Hargrove. “It’s a really good arrangement and when we recorded it, it came out so pretty I knew I had to use it.”
“Mambo for Roy,” a rearranged version of the Chucho Valdes-penned track that first appeared on the Crisol release, demonstrates Hargrove’s infatuation with Latin rhythms. One of the undeniable showpieces of Emergence is “Requiem,” a 13-and-a-half-minute epic written by Frank Lacy, a fellow Texan who played trombone in an early lineup of the Roy Hargrove Big Band. “That song is the identity of the band,” says Hargrove. “The arrangement reminds me of the old school marching bands where I grew up.” “September in the Rain,” the old Harry Warren-Al Dubin number, is given an uptempo arrangement by the bandleader that features none other than Roy Hargrove himself offering a rare vocal toward its conclusion. “It’s always been one of my favorite songs, from the first time I heard Sarah Vaughan sing it,” he says. “It’s a great melody. I learned the words and sang it one time and people started asking me to do it after that.”
The last of the standards, Cole Porter’s “Everytime We Say Goodbye,” is a lush ballad featuring Hargrove’s label mate, Grammy nominee and “Rising Star Female Vocalist of the Year” (DownBeat Critics’ Poll, 2008) Roberta Gambarini. “Coltrane has three versions of that and then there are so many great renditions with vocalists—those words are so poetic,” says Hargrove. “I had been playing the song a lot myself so I asked [guitarist] Saul Rubin to arrange it for vocal.” Gambarini also nails the Spanish-language vocal on the following track, Luis Demetrio’s “La Puerta,” a song that Hargrove first encountered during a tour of Cuba. “I was playing there with Chucho Valdes and there was a wedding downstairs at the hotel one night. A trio was playing this tune and it’s a very catchy melody, so beautiful. Turns out it’s about this guy breaking up with his woman and telling her, ‘I’m happy now that you’re gone.’”
Emergence bows out with three consecutive Hargrove compositions. “Roy Allan,” named for Hargrove’s father and also originally on Family, builds on a funky ’70s soul vibe that Hargrove says was inspired by Isaac Hayes and the so-called blaxploitation films of that era. The easy-going, exploratory “Tschpiso” was arranged by the band’s pianist, Gerald Clayton, and finally, “Trust” is a newly arranged remake of a gospel tune Hargrove cut originally for his Nothing Serious album in 2006.
“There’s not much left to chance,” Hargrove says about the tightly arranged performances on Emergence, but he still likes to leave a few doors open. “When I get in the studio I might get inspired and change something around, according to the moment,” he says. “I’m just trying to make some music that’s fun to hear and play. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you’re hearing your compositions and arrangements played by a wall of sound.”