Blowing an honest horn

Jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold will headline Tel Aviv Jazz Festival next week.

Keyon Harrold (photo credit: DENEKA PENISTON)
Keyon Harrold
(photo credit: DENEKA PENISTON)
Over the years, numerous jazz masters from abroad have returned to these shores, to unfurl the latest from their musical box of tricks. Keyon Harrold has taken longer than most. But 15 years after his first foray here, the 38-year-old American trumpeter will grace the stage of the Tel Aviv Museum as one of the headliners of the forthcoming edition of the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival (November 28-December 1).
The festival takes place in collaboration with the Zappa Club and the Tel Aviv Municipality.
Naturally, much has happened in Harrold’s life and career in the interim, not least his playing on the widely acclaimed 2015 Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead, on which he performed all the music for director-actor Don Cheadle’s on-screen performance.
Harrold’s instrumental contribution received the highest of accolades when the musical backdrop to the film won a Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.
While some may know Harrold primarily as a jazz musician, in fact he spreads his rich gifts across a broad spectrum of styles and genres.
During his career to date he has provided silky sonic underpinning for such commercial music A-listers as rappers JAY-Z and 50 Cent, and pop- R&B megastar singer Beyoncé. In the words of the late great modern jazz pioneer drummer Max Roach, as far as Harrold is concerned, it’s all “just” music.
“Music is the focus, jazz is just a dialect,” he says. Then again, the trumpeter does have certain avenues of expression that guide his work.
“Obviously jazz is the foundation and the base line of what we use to talk in the medium of music, but there’s so much music out there. It would be a tragedy to leave out things. There’s hip-hop and R&B rock and classical music; there’s so much by so many different musicians that it would be a tragedy to leave out certain things.”
Harrold is also clearly not in any hurry to churn out all his ideas and get them down on CD, vinyl or virtual format. His debut release, Introducing Keyon Harrold, came out in 2009, and his sophomore effort, The Mugician, surfaced last year.
“Musically, I am at a stage where I am able to communicate the things that I want to communicate,” he notes, adding that, for him, being creative is not just about getting the stuff out there. There is a process he feels he needs to experience before he can put his thoughts into an audible state. “A lot of people have asked me why it took me so long to do another album. The answer is I had to live a lot. I had to learn a lot of things – musically, personally, spiritually, and now I’ve been able to organize all those thoughts and things and create the music I want to create.”
When Harrold takes the stage with his quintet, with singer-songwriter Andrea Pizziconi augmenting the instrumental endeavor with vocals, on the first evening of the festival, the Tel Aviv Museum audience will hear the fruits of the lengthy learning curve, as expressed on The Mugician, with a few standards thrown in for good measure.
The trumpeter does his best to let his ideas and feelings flow through him without getting in the way too much. “It took a long time to get The Mugician, but I had to be honest with myself. I never want to rush things. I never want to just push things out. Now I can mix the R&B with the jazz, I can mix the hip-hop with the jazz, and it sounds authentic. It took a long time for me, myself, to be authentic about it. Now I can be prolific in that way.”
For Harrold it’s about letting it all hang out and just proffering himself to his listeners, come what may. “I’m the kind of person who wears his feelings on his sleeve. If I’m not feeling it, the crowd’s not feeling it and the musicians aren’t feeling it, and the people listening to the record aren’t feeling it. But if I’m being 100% honest with myself, and I can be, then things will resonate.”
Over the years he has increasingly added vocals to his musical output, which, he says, like everything else he does, was just a matter of going with the natural flow.
“It was kind of a continuum. I used to sing, back in the day. I used to sing soprano in a choir, but then I grew up and puberty happened,” he laughs.
“Me singing was originally just when I was doing a lot of songwriting, producing songs for different people. I had to do demos of certain things. But I wanted to do singing too.”
He was keen on airing out some more strings to his professional bow.
“You know, I play the trumpet, but sometimes that is not the whole message. And I enjoy it.” He ain’t too bad at it either. “I’ve definitely heard worse,” he adds with a chuckle.
Three decades after Harrold followed in his musician grandfather’s footsteps, after playing horn and singing in the church where his parents served as pastors, and after four of his 15 – yes 15! – siblings took up music seriously, Harrold appears to be in a good place - musically, personally and spiritually. Amen to that.
For tickets and more information about the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival: *9080 and