Erykah Badu Talks Roy Hargrove Documentary She Executive Produced

Erykah Badu, executive producer of the upcoming documentary about late jazz and R&B trumpeter Roy Hargrove, wastes no time elaborating on the influence her collaborator and high school classmate has had on his life and career.

“It all started with Roy,” says Badu, who first met Hargrove in 1985 when she was a freshman at Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. . “Roy was the first person I met in high school: him in the music department and jazz band, me in the dance next door. We danced to this band’s versions of John Coltrane, Miles Davis. It helped me to understand what jazz was and how to interpret it. It was a subtle rebellion. Roy was already a legend in second year – the truth is,” she adds, “Roy was actually a legend starting in middle school.

Hargrove would reach legendary heights in R&B and jazz: with the Soulquarians — the collective that also included drummer/bandleader Roots Questlove, bassist Pino Palladino, keyboardist James Poyser and DJ/producer J Dilla — who played on legendary Badu albums. , D’Angelo, Common, and others; and in the world of jazz with Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock, both interviewed for “Hargrove”, directed by Eliane Henri, and premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 12.

“We felt really safe together,” says Badu (pictured below, right, with Henri) of the extended Soulquarians musical family.

Courtesy of Eliane Henri

The film follows Hargrove from that high school to session work for saxophonist Bobby Watson and tours of Italy and Europe. Following Hargrove’s debut as bandleader “Diamond in the Rough” in 1990, the trumpeter – a private man who suffered from both long-standing kidney disease and drug addiction – showed a diversity of genre-hopping, playing with both jazz alumni and neo-soul and hip-hop giants until his death in 2018 from cardiac arrest brought on by kidney disease. He was only 49 years old.

“Roy was a throwback and a step forward,” saxophonist Ralph Moore says in the film.

This diversity is illustrated in the film: Hargrove won a Grammy for best Latin jazz album in 1998 for “Habana” with Crisol, his Afro-Cuban group, then another for best jazz instrumental album in 2002 for “Directions in Music : Live at Massey Hall” with Hancock and Michael Brecker. And his game with the Soulquarians was also amplified in Dan Charnas’ highly respected recent biography, J Dilla, ‘Dilla Time’.

Between Hargrove’s playing and her taste in music, Badu says she made bigger strides in delving into jazz in her freshman year of college listening to A Tribe Called Quest.

“Here’s Q-Tip and Dilla sampling all the great jazz names I’ve heard from Roy,” enthuses Badu, referring to tracks like “Get a Hold” from the album “Beats, Rhymes & Life” by Tribe in 1996. “I dug deeper, listened more to the sampled original compositions and [incorporated those influences] into what my merge is. Roy was the root of it.

During Badu’s college years, she remained in close contact with Hargrove, recalling all of her early releases such as 1992’s “The Vibe” and the trumpeter’s rendition of the Cahn/Style classic “The Things We Did Last Summer.”

“I listened to this song every day and was so proud of my friend,” she says. “I decided that when I put out records, he would be on all of them.” These albums range from 1999’s “Mama’s Gun” to 2003’s “Worldwide Underground” (where Badu and Hargrove sing Donald Byrd’s “Think Twice,” a track she calls “hilarious” due to the trumpeter’s scatting), and on his “New Amerika Part 1” from 2008.

“We never lost contact,” she recalls. “It was a story of twin souls, never in a romantic sense, but something where we understood each other. I didn’t think I was a good singer. Roy always told me, though, ‘You sing really well. ‘ These words, while simple, resonate with me to this day.

Badu also talks about the intuitive musical connection she had with the trumpeter. While recording “Mama’s Gun” at Electric Lady Studios in New York, she said no one but Hargrove could perform her arrangements. “There wasn’t much conversation,” she recalls. “He listened to her, nodded. If he needed a trombone or a sax to broaden the sound, he would ask. There weren’t many words between us. We haven’t talked about music. We embodied it. I never underestimated his ability to feel what I felt as a singer. We trusted each other. »

However, the documentary does not dodge his struggles with drug addiction (in 2014 he pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and was sentenced to two days of community service) and long-standing kidney disease and dialysis. Henri’s documentary also delves into Hargrove’s relationship with manager Larry Clothier, who is described as a father figure to the trumpet player, but whose intentions were questioned by several people interviewed in the doc.

“Eliane’s draft [of the film], how dark it was attracted me,” says Badu. “It hurts. I could feel the intensity of his choices. Eliane’s passion and support for Roy was clear throughout the film.

After attending a celebration of Hargrove’s life and work in Texas in 2018, Badu was introduced to Hargrove’s friend Henri and her goal of finishing a documentary she had started filming, on tour. , during the last year of Hargrove’s life.

“Eliane came to my house to do an interview on someone I love,” says Badu. “After our conversation, she asked me if I wanted to be part of this thing. It became a labor of love, with me as a consultant, helping him find artists and permissions, and showing me all of his edits. Eliane had a great passion for the film and its subject, and edited everything on her own. She nailed.”

For his part, Henri – Hargrove’s friend and tour videographer – had known the trumpeter since he was 17, having met him during his concert at the Catalina Bar & Grille in Los Angeles.

“I grew up seeing all the jazz greats with my aunt in Los Angeles, but Roy was the first time he was someone dynamic and in my age group,” says Henri. “Roy and his band made jazz present and contemporary, cool and cutting-edge.”

Henri, who ended up working for Quincy Jones (“my mentor”) at Qwest Records and his endeavors, often hired Hargrove to play his events, cementing their friendship. And in 2016, she pitched to Hargrove the idea of ​​documenting her life and work. “We developed the concept together for a year before we started filming,” Henri explains. “We started 2018 in earnest with so many great images and then it passed that year.”

Working with the International Documentary Association, Henri witnessed firsthand how filmmakers around the world craft their wares.

“The question of how do you know what movie they’re supposed to make came up, repeatedly,” she says, “with the answer being access: what story only you have access to. For me, it was Roy: one of my best friends and the most secretive of people. What we took from him on film, putting him in the headspace of such an invasive shoot…. everything is so rare. He was specific and intentional about what he shared with me. He did not complain and was careful not to talk about his health, even while on dialysis four days a week while on tour. It was superhuman of him, transcending his physical limitations to play as much and as powerfully as he did. I wanted to do something real, raw, and slice of life for his film – not whitewashed. It was a lot for Roy, but I think it was worth it when you see the movie.

Badu says that whether or not audiences know the trumpet player’s work deeply, “I want people to feel,” she says. “I want people to get mad, to be happy, to feel excited, to fall in love. That’s what I loved about Roy and his work – that there were so many different colors he went through in his career. Roy made you feel.

“People have two deaths,” she concludes. “When they physically leave the earth, and the last time someone says their name. Keeping Roy alive is our goal.

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