Photo by: Tanya Rahme
Y’all don’t even understand. I lost my spirit brother today. I remember I first started hearing about this dude when I was around 12-years-old. When I would hang out and get lessons from Wynton Marsalis, he would tell me about this cat around my age from Texas by the name of Roy Hargrove who was a prodigy like me. I didn’t meet him face-to-face for another 4 years or so, but as you can imagine, the excitement built in my mind. Who is this little mothafucka playing as much horn as me? In my mind, I was the only one. When we first met, I felt like I had reunited with my long, lost soul brother. I felt so much love for him instantly. Much in the same way I locked eyes with my son for the first time, there was a kindred feeling of family present from the jump.
Years later, Wynton had this series he started at Lincoln Center called the Battle Royale. He pit Roy and I against each other on the old standard called “Just Friends.” How ironic. Haha… Anyway, if you can find that tape anywhere, you’ll hear perhaps the most heated trumpet battle you’ve ever heard in your life. We loved each other, but we were going for blood. The vibe in the room was electric and it was very clear who the next two trumpet stars on the scene were to be.
That event signaled the start of the music industry doing everything in its power to create of web of conflict between the two of us. And like brothers, we fought over everything: the same record company, the same gigs, the same women. We kept each other in check and made each other our best selves. I couldn’t go anywhere without him right there. Even my big Grammy night when I thought I would one up him, he won his first Grammy the same night. That little mothafucka! lol
[Another trumpet battle of note is one at Berklee the night after we won our first Grammys]
There aren’t many relationships like ours in the world. The closest I can think of is that of Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, or even better, Phife and Tip. The world got the best of the best because we both existed. And now he’s gone. It’s just me and it hurts beyond belief.
With every note, this brother dripped soul. In every phrase, he never let you forget you were listening to a Black man playing that horn. He inspires me to no end.
Right after the big flood of 2005 in New Orleans, I was estranged in his home state Texas for a few months while NOLA was still in disrepair. Roy called me to New York to participate in his series at the Jazz Gallery called, “The Trumpet Shall Sound.” This was also one of many of our legendary trumpet battles. With the exception of a head nod outside of a hotel in NYC 2007, I hadn’t seen or spoken to Roy until about 2017 at a session at the Zinc Bar. Those who knew Roy know that he could often be very shy and quiet, almost aloof sometimes. I went up to him and said, “Wassup?” and he barely blinked. I was like, “Okay,” and went about my business. A little backstory: If you know anything about my history, you’d know that throughout the ’90s, I was often hailed as the Second Coming of Armstrong, something I’d come to love and loathe. Back to Zinc: After speaking to Roy, I got onstage to sit in. When I walked back to my seat, Roy came up to me with his eyes wide as pies (a rare occurrence, hehe) and said, “Pops came back!” I just burst out laughing and gave him some dap and a hug.
That night sparked a series of late night hangs we would have, often shutting the jam sessions down. I’d jump around on different instruments or he’d play his horn or trumpet or sing and we’d play songs hardly anybody knew. I really admired Roy for being a staple at those sessions. He often expressed frustration at the lack of fundamentals many of the current crop of young musicians exhibited these days, but he stayed in the trenches many a night, imparting to the young ones what our elders imparted to us.
Photo by: Tarek Yamani
I often say two things changed the New York City Straight-Ahead music scene: Art Blakey passing and Bradley’s closing. Now I have to add a third, the departure of Roy Hargrove. New York will not be the same without you and neither will I.
-Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop