First Look Friday: Experience That Unfiltered Awesomeness From Keyon Harrold
Keyon Harrold photographs taken by Deneka Peniston of Peniston Photograpy for Okayplayer.
There is a quiet dignity when in the presence of Keyon Harrold. The celebrated musician has created a lane for himself as the “future of the trumpet,” according to one Wynton Marsalis, and has performed from stages around the world with D’Angelo and Kendra Foster to getting down in the White House alongside Common and Robert Glasper. While this would be flattering accolades for the average performer — for Keyon this all comes as the reward of diligent hours of practice and practice and practice.
As one of the most sought after trumpeters in the world, Keyon has laced songs with Jay Z (“Roc Boys”), Maxwell (“Pretty Wings”), Gregory Porter (“Be Good”) and Miles Davis (“What’s Wrong With That?”). It was the latter partnership on the Don Cheadle-directed cinematic, Miles Ahead, where Keyon Harrold showcased his signature trumpet sound as the melody behind Cheadle playing Miles. With his next album in the works, plenty of upcoming placements yet to be revealed — Keyon Harrold is certainly a name to know if you didn’t know it already.
Armed with an insanely long list of musical accolades and experiences, this St. Louis-born-and-bred composer, producer and musician is this week’s First Look Friday subject. In our exclusive chat with him, Keyon Harrold discusses his leap into musical destiny, how attending a jazz camp led to him befriending some of the illest jazz musicians in the game and shares his intimate feelings about performing at the White House with Common. Enjoy!
Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact. What is it that those in St. Louis + New York are seeing and hearing that the rest of the world has yet to discover?
Keyon Harrold: They are seeing and hearing a product of the (now infamous) town of Ferguson. People are experiencing a man who has the courage to use his challenges, experiences and opportunities as fuel to produce emotionally raw music that paints the truths of his life, boldly and freely. I use the good, bad and the ugly. I want people around the world to feel in my music my yearning to create art with beauty, discipline, purpose and integrity.
OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they honed their skills and practiced their craft. Who are your most cherished influences in music and why?
KH: There are clearly many musicians who have influenced me. To name a few: Miles Davis and the members of his second great quintet (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Ron Carter); Prince, Common, Dr. Dre and J Dilla. A few threads that tie these people together from my perspective is their relationship to the mastery of their respective craft(s) from a timeless and a genius standpoint. They all have and were the musical space cadets; marching to the beat of their own drums and chords; adventurers looking for that next musical journey.
OKP: Your song, “Her Beauty Through My Eyes” is extremely dope and has heightened anticipation for new work from you by music snobs who have a heavy presence in the industry. Can you talk about how life was for you while developing as an artist? How did you react to your first bits of press?
KH: Thank you very much! I appreciate and welcome the love from all who are feeling my vibes. Life for me as a developing artist was definitely a roller coaster filled with ups-and-downs, no doubt. But I also realize how much I have truly been blessed. I have collaborated on nearly 100 albums in my career. I’ve always been very lucky to be busy doing what I love most, which is making music. And maybe my career would be different if I had not taken on the opportunities to work with so many of the world’s best artists like Jay Z, Eminem, Beyoncé, Maxwell, Yasiin Bey, 50 Cent, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Andre Crouch, Mac Miller and the experience of touring with Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour.
But there was always the question of when I would take the leap into my own musical destiny. I would be keenly aware that the public has increasingly wanted me to set aside more time for my own music. The downside of being busy is that you have to learn to say “no” even to some of my favorite artists and friends just to carve out more quiet time to record your own work. It has been a busy seven years since my last album. And, though I am always writing music, I have found it hard to find the right time to pause long enough to finish the album once and for all.
I have found through it all that the answer is now. Now is the right time. As far as press is concerned, it is always nice to be highlighted for positivity and it is usually a good barometer of how the grind is going and what people are feeling. Ultimately, what good is an artist or movement if no one knows about it.
OKP: With incidents involving people of color, police and racism occurring almost on a daily basis — how can your music (and/or others) help to relieve the trauma that is being experienced by the masses?