Keyon Harrold is a renowned session musician in the industry, now focusing on his own solo music with his debut album The Mugician. We were lucky enough to see the album performed, which sounds incredible live - Harrold has some crazy skills and refined technique with his instrument. The trumpeter, famed for his peformance as Miles Davis' trumpet for the Miles Ahead film soundtrack, chatted to us ahead of his Love Supreme performance about his musical background, why it's important for artists to provide socio-political commentary, and the theft of some important hard drives...
You’ve worked with the likes of D’Angelo, Mac Miller, Mary J. Blige, Maxwell - the list goes on and it’s very impressive! But we want to know a bit more about your musical background, how did you get into playing the trumpet?
The way I got into the trumpet was a family thing. My grandfather ran a drum and bugle corps, so all of his grandkids had to learn how to play a musical instrument, so I didn’t really have a choice! There’s sixteen of us, so all of my elder brothers, sisters, they all learned how to play so it was a case of ‘well, I guess I have to do it too…’ I wanted to play the drums! They didn’t allow me to because there weren’t enough horn players at the time, so I learned how to play the horn. My grandfather said, ‘you know what, when we get more horn players, you can go back to it’ - never happened! So thank goodness it worked out well for me. I love playing the trumpet, and have done from a very early age, I was about seven when I started playing.
Your album The Mugician was released last year (great title by the way) and you’ve got an array of artists on there, including Gary Clark Jr. on the political commentary track ‘Circus Show’, one of TLG’s highlights of the album. Why do you think it’s important for artists to use their platform as a voice for change?
There are very few fields that you can actually put your view out there in a way that it’s art. So as artists it’s basically our job to paint the times, let people know what’s going on and give our perspective of it. So myself and Andrea Pizziconi, my writing partner, we wrote that song about watching the election happen, and we were like ‘are you freaking kidding me? Really?’. Every day, to this day, there’s something more amazing, and that’s why we look at it as a circus. Every day is a circus show that we just don’t really know what’s next; we don’t know if he’ll be purple tomorrow!
There are so many different things, as an artist, that it’s my job to talk about. You know, what happened at Ferguson, to Mike Brown. To tell people that don’t have any perspective, or that just aren’t conscious enough to know. Or they aren’t really able to connect to the people on the news, but if I say it, because I’m from Ferguson, it may come home and reach their hearts a little bit more. So as an artist I want to help change things for the better.
© Ryan Taylor & Trouve la Groove
Going back in time now to when Miles Ahead got the Grammy for the soundtrack, with you being Miles Davis’ trumpet - what was that experience like for you, and is film something that you’re interested in doing more of?
I am absolutely interested in trying to work on more film stuff. The way I see music is very cinematic anyway. Working on the film with Don Cheadle and Robert Glasper - shout out to them for receiving a Grammy for that soundtrack - it’s a hell of an experience. Trying to emulate the playing of the greatest trumpet player ever, one of the greatest artists of all time, and continually trying to breathe life into who he was as a character was a pure pleasure and a pure honour to do. Very humbling - I tell people it’s like walking on a tightrope - you can’t really look down, because you will fall! So when we were doing it, I just had to keep my head down and do it. And after it was done, it worked out well. I guess we fooled a few people in the process! So I think I did my job.
We would agree! Like Miles in the story, you also had an eight-year gap before the release of The Mugician - how did you find inspiration to start writing it?
Interestingly enough, you say eight years? It’s not quite that long, because at one point in 2015, all my music was stolen. I was very close to finishing a record, very close! And I was parking on 5th avenue and I had about seven hard drives work of IP. My computer, my MPC Studio, my keyboards everything was stolen right out my trunk, because I was moving from Pennsylvania to New York City, and the way I had it packed meant that you could just open the trunk and boom…
That put me in a place where either I could be depressed, maybe even think about suicide, quitting music, or I could look at it in a way that maybe God, or the universe, didn’t want whatever that album was to come out yet. So right after that, I started working on The Mugician. Two songs survived that appear on the album: ‘Stay This Way’ featuring Bilal, and ‘Wayfaring Traveller’. Parts of them survived, and then the rest of the album was totally new after that.
Having toured and recorded with such an incredible list of artists, what has been your biggest ‘I’ve made it’ moment?
This is going to be bittersweet - I’ve worked with a lot of people, and I don’t want to say I’m jaded, but I’ve done that. I respect everything that they do, but the most important thing and the most exciting thing for me to do is what I’m going to do today: to perform for Love Supreme, under my own name, with my own band, with my own music.
To me that’s very special, because I know what it’s like to perform with D’Angelo, with Maxwell, Jay-Z, Eminem, Rihanna - a myriad of different people. And that’s great, they’re incredible! But what does that do for me? It doesn’t really do what it needs to do for my legacy. When people get a chance to see me and grace me and take me in, that’s what’s special to me. This tour is a moment for me - every day that I get a chance to share with people is a moment for me.
© Ryan Taylor & Trouve la Groove
Where would you say your biggest influences come from?
My biggest influences musically come from the people who came before. The Duke Ellingtons, the John Coltranes, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Bob Dylan, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie. I feel like I’ve been injected with their superpowers in some way.
In other ways, my life: my son inspires me daily, my family inspires me, the longing of love and passion inspires me daily, and good food! Good food, good vibes, good people! Always that which keeps me alive, keeps me going, keeps me wanting to live another day.
And one more thing, my mother is a huge inspiration to me. And on my album, the first song is called ‘Voicemail’, that song is always first in my set, when I hear her voice. She had a double bypass, so I wrote this song for her and I got a chance to play it for her just after she’d had this massive heart attack, and she was sedated for ten days. I didn’t think I’d have a chance to say anything to her again. Thank God, she pulled through, and that inspiration puts me back where I need to be, makes me think about her, makes me think about how I can go forward. She always leaves these inspirational voicemails for me, but that was the one that I could put to music.
If you’re about to go on stage, if you’re not feeling ready, do you have any rituals to prepare?
I always like to give thanks and honour to the creator. Always to re-focus and give my thanks that I have this ability to share with people, that I have the honour to share my talent, share my views and my opinions with hundreds or thousands of people every day. It’s really a blessing and it’s what I love to do. So I always do a prayer circle before we go out on stage, and just re-focus everything, because so much crap happens during the process! That’s the moment that we say OK, centred.
Have you got any future projects in the works?
There are a number of different projects that I’m working on with different artists that are due to come out. Conceptually I have a new album brewing, so once we’ve finished this tour we’re in the studio, doing the second instalment.