“He gave his life to it”: Remembering Dallas jazz icon Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove, wearing a shirt and bow tie, plays the trumpet

Roy Hargrove. Photo: Anna Yatskevich

It is not a role Aida Brandes-Hargrove ever expected to play.

Five years ago this November, Roy Hargrove, the Waco-born and Dallas-bred jazz trumpeter died unexpectedly as a result of complications from his long-time battle against kidney disease. He was 49.

The Grammy winner’s sudden passing left his wife, Aida, his daughter, Kamala, and a great many collaborators, friends, and fans reeling from grief and grappling with what came next.

“At the beginning, I was sort of just thrown into it,” Brandes-Hargrove said during a recent conversation from her New York City home. “So many people wanted to do something for Roy, about Roy. Being in charge of everything, I sort of had to take the lead on it.”

Rather than letting Hargrove’s considerable body of work, his contributions to the jazz canon and his memory languish, Aida and Kamala launched Roy Hargrove Legacy, LLC in 2020 to manage his estate and, in the words of his widow, make sure “the music exists, stays out there.” (Aida and Kamala are also protecting Hargrove on film, and spoke out against a documentary which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in June.)

One of the projects which will get a fresh release later this year is Hargrove’s seminal Hard Groove, released as the debut recording from his group The RH Factor. Brandes-Hargrove said Verve Records, which first issued Hard Groove 20 years ago, plans to re-release the album on vinyl this fall.

Hard Groove is a staggering post-bop masterwork, even two decades on, and not least because of the eclectic, glittering roster of collaborators Hargrove enlisted: His fellow Booker T. Washington alum Erykah Badu turns up, as does Common, D’Angelo, Me’Shell Ndege’Ocello, Q-Tip, Anthony Hamilton, and Bernard Wright.

“I don’t think it was so much that Roy was trying to be ahead [of the curve] or to [discover] the next thing — that was just where he was going,” Brandes-Hargrove said of Hard Groove. “He just happened to have that — I don’t even want to call it vision, because it’s just what he was feeling at the time. … You’re listening to it now, and it’s totally right now.”

In addition to overseeing Roy Hargrove Legacy, Brandes-Hargrove also runs the day-to-day operations of the Roy Hargrove Big Band, which has multiple dates booked well into October, largely in the New York area. The band, led by music director Bruce Williams and assistant music director Jason Marshall, has a monthly residency at the Jazz Gallery on Broadway, and will play three gigs at Jazz at Lincoln Center to mark what would’ve been Hargrove’s 54th birthday.

“It’s amazing,” Brandes-Hargrove said. “I wasn’t sure at first that we were gonna be able to do it. Because, you know, Roy — he’s such an integral part, as a musician, as a conductor and band leader. … My thinking was that the only way this could work is if enough people that played with Roy directly, we bring them in one room together … and they’ll just bring that energy back.”

Brandes-Hargrove said she would love to see a memorial in North Texas, such as a concert or a mural, but there are no firm plans.  (She also put out a call to Dean Hill, Hargrove’s former teacher and a seminal figure in his life, encouraging him to contact her.)

“I’ve talked to a few people about this and that, but nothing concrete has materialized,” she said. “I really think it’s a timing thing … a lot of the time, it’s great ideas, and then, it takes time to sort of come together.”

Brandes-Hargrove radiates with pride when talking about her late husband and his singular approach to making art.

“There’s a dedication and surrender Roy had towards the music that I think is super important, and gets easily lost,” she said. “A lot of musicians, they’re like, ‘Well, you know, you got to pay your rent, and you got to worry about this, worry about that.’ He would always be adamant: ‘No, you have to worry about the music. That’s it.’ There was a dedication to and a seriousness about the music … He gave his life to it.”

Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on X (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.