I am hard-pressed to call an artist in their mid-career years an icon or a legend. Trumpeter and flugelhornist Roy Hargrove, who died in 2018 at age 49, is a legend. His creative footprint continues to impact talent in many music genres. It’s a raw look at his life. That’s what we get from “Hargrove,” the documentary written, produced, and directed by Eliane Henri, a first-time filmmaker. The film was screened recently during DC Jazz Festival.
Covering the last year of his life, the documentary follows Roy on tour. He had an incredible encyclopedic mind for music and literature, mostly poetry. An illustration of Roy’s range of music is heard through on-screen comments from Wynton Marsalis, Questlove, Christian McBride, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Herbie Hancock, Robert Glasper, Sonny Rollins, and Erykah Badu, also an executive producer.
The impact of Roy’s many years of managing kidney disease required dialysis for the last 14 years of his life. He needed dialysis every four days. Smoking cigarettes plus drug addiction did not help. As seen in the film “Hargrove,” this musician was made to be the talent he became. Music was intensely embedded in his soul. Roy was first and foremost committed to Black music, which he adamantly proclaimed.
“There’s big band Roy, there’s trio Roy, there’s funk Roy, there’s dissident fusion Roy, there’s hip-hop Roy,” Questlove said, touching on Roy’s versatility.
Seeing Roy perform on screen was different from listening to a recording. There was a higher level that touched me deeply. He knew what he knew and wanted to ensure others knew what he knew. It was just as Badu shared in the film.
“The world was a private joke between him and God,” Badu said.
“Hargrove,” the film is raw. Seeing Roy and hearing other musicians speak about him tells the “yin yang” of the man’s life. Heard were admiration, curiosity, and disappointment. Roy deserved that full view provided in the film.
There was also that ugly side of managing his creativity depicted in comments about and scenes of Roy with his manager Larry Clothier. As Roy’s manager, he still has rights to the work. Clothier threw every kind of roadblock at the release of “Hargrove,” including not permitting use of music scenes filmed during the final tour. He has also blocked access to the movie trailer.
One of Roy’s bandmates, Washingtonian Marc Cary, appeared in the film. Cary also performed for years with jazz vocalist and mentor Betty Carter. Following a post-screening panel discussion, Cary, a pianist, composer, producer, and educator, spoke about Roy’s influence.
“I brought away from him another love for the music,” said Cary, an alumnus of DC’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts. “I came away with an appreciation and understanding for what it takes and the responsibility that goes with it.”
Brenda C. Siler on Twitter and Instagram: @bcscomm