- Keyon Harrold
Although New York-based, Missouri-raised trumpeter Keyon Harrold began making his presence known in the jazz world as a member of Charles Tolliver's big band in the late '00s, it was his crossover work with rapper Common and his instrumental and on-screen performances in the 2015 Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead that brought him to a wider audience. This month, as part of Bard College's Sound the Trumpet series, Harrold will lead "Jazz and the Birth of Hip-Hop," a program that includes music from his 2017 album, The Mugician. Ahead of the event, which is cosponsored by Catskill Jazz Factory, Harrold answered the questions below via e-mail. "Sound the Trumpet: Jazz and the Birth of Hip-Hop" featuring Keyon Harrold will be presented at Bard College's Fisher Center on February 9 at 7:30pm. Tickets start at $25.
The program you're presenting at Bard College "paints a picture of today's hip-hop within the history of jazz." Can you tell us a little about the content of the performance and about how it will demonstrate the connection between the genres?
The content of this performance will show the correlation of jazz as an important element to hip-hop. I look at the influence of jazz as it related to hip-hop, like a parent to a child. Once the child comes of age, it can, in turn, influence the parent. I feel that is happening with the music. The program will include instances of how jazz songs were used to help create a new genre. Music from Ahmad Jamal, Bob James, Miles Davis, and many others help lay the backdrop of hip-hop, which is now the most popular genre of music around the world. Elements of jazz, broken down into music parts called "samples" or "chops," were used to create entirely new songs. There will be instances of my original music that will show the evolution of hip-hop and how it serves in the way I compose.
As a jazz musician, what is it that you enjoy most about collaborating with hip-hop artists and working within that medium? Your own connections with hop-hop seem to come to the fore with your move to New York to attend the New School when you were 18.
I enjoy collaborating with hip-hop artists because the music is still alive and still being formed. I like being a part of what's to come and pushing musical boundaries while keeping the integrity of a jazz purist and the discipline of a musician who has studied in a conservatory. Ultimately, I like to be relevant as an artist; I want to influence and create new listeners to keep my love of jazz alive.
You've cited Miles Davis's second great quintet—sometimes called the 1965-'68 quintet; with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams—as one of your main influences. What is it about that band in particular that has captivated you, and what did it feel like to perform the trumpet parts for Don Cheadle's portrayal of Davis in Miles Ahead?
The Miles Davis Quintet with Wayne, Herbie, Tony, and Ron were the epitome of vision, musically. They were original and prolific, had style, and were all pioneering figures in how music is heard today. Listening to those records from '60s is inspiring every time. I was honored to play a part in Miles Ahead. It was the ability to pay homage to Miles, who is one of the most critical musicians in history, who just happens to [also] be a trumpeter. I felt it was a rite of passage for me. I was humbled with the opportunity to record and stand next to Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. A kind of dream situation that led to a Grammy Award for the soundtrack, which was amazing to be a part of (shout out to Robert Glasper and Don Cheadle).
Having been raised in Ferguson, Missouri, as the grandson of a local police officer, what do you remember thinking and feeling in the aftermath of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown and the protests and riots that followed? Two years on from those events, what are your thoughts and feelings now about the issues that they raised?
I remember being heartbroken about the events that transpired. It was a tragedy in my beloved stumping grounds that partially divided and highlighted our nation in regard to race, politics, humanity, and law enforcement. The issues that were raised from it are not new. Racism, systemic bias, oppression, and privilege have all influenced our current political climate. I feel that [some in] our country fail to appreciate the importance and impact of people who do not look like them. They fail to recognize that until black lives matter, all lives do not matter. And that goes for any other minority group; sexual orientation, religion, and freedom of choice. What is clear is that we need to do more to appreciate each other as humans. Love and acceptance over hate and bias.
What are the chief roles of music and musicians in troubled times like the present?
The seminal role of artists is to convey the times good or bad. To express love and to despise hate and indifference. We have the power to influence hearts and change perspectives with sound as the weapon. So I will continue to write songs that bridge the gaps instead of building more walls to separate us.