When my father died in December 2004, my mother, my brother, and I managed to organize the funeral arrangements as we not only processed our heartbreak, but also while in a collective state of shell-shock. Numbing, bewildering shock. Dad died suddenly, you see. He collapsed onto his bedroom floor, brought down by a catastrophic stroke. He was dead in an instant. As the three of us spent the next couple of days making phone calls, sorting through old photos and mementos, writing our eulogies, and comforting each other in our grief, we agreed to let family and friends know that in lieu of flowers they should make a donation to the Save the Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving music education in public schools. For those of you who may not know, my father was a musician – a trumpet player who once contemplated a career trading stocks on Wall Street but opted for one in music instead. He supported his family, paid the bills, and put food on the table for over forty years by playing his trumpet.
Arts education in schools in an issue near and dear to my heart, and to my family’s heart. I was reminded of this subject with the recent passing of Roy Hargrove, jazz trumpet player and Grammy award winner, who burst onto the scene during the 1980s. I distinctly remember overhearing my Dad ask a fellow musician, “Have you heard this kid Hargrove?”. To say there was a ‘buzz’ surrounding him in jazz circles would be an understatement.
Born in Waco, Texas, Roy Hargrove attended the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. It was there that the 16 year old Hargrove was discovered by Wynton Marsalis who was blown away by the young trumpeter’s skills and took him under his wing. The Booker T Washington School was originally founded in 1892 as a school for African-American students. During the 1970s it was transformed into an “arts magnet”; a public school with specialized curricula devoted to arts study.
Here in New York City, magnet schools of all kinds, both arts and academic, have been an integral part of our public school system for decades. (When I was growing up we didn’t call them magnets, we called them “specialized schools”). From the Bronx High School of Science, to Art and Design in midtown, to the old High School of Music and Art which resided adjacent to the City College campus in Harlem, to the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, magnets have provided the young people of NYC with priceless opportunities for enrichment, to grow, thrive, and explore their innate talents. I know many, many people – native New Yorkers all – who are alumni of our city’s arts magnet schools, and every one of them will attest to the significance of their high school experience and speak with tremendous fondness for that period in their life. It far surpasses their feelings about college.
Innate talent was something Roy Hargrove had in spades. Would he have found success had he not attended an arts magnet? It’s impossible to know. But we do know that his future mentor, Wynton Marsalis, found him there. Marsalis wrote a magnificent, deeply touching tribute to his protégé on his Facebook page. The news of Hargrove’s death was quite shocking, as he was only 49 years old. The NPR obituary for him is worth reading. This descriptive passage stands out:
“A briskly assertive soloist with a tone that could evoke either burnished steel or a soft, golden glow, Hargrove was a galvanizing presence in jazz over the last 30 years. Dapper and slight of build, he exuded a sly, sparkling charisma onstage, whether he was holding court at a late-night jam session or performing in the grandest concert hall. His capacity for combustion and bravura was equaled by his commitment to lyricism, especially when finessing a ballad on flugelhorn.”
For our Music Monday, we pay tribute to both Roy Hargrove and all the young creatives encouraged and celebrated at arts magnets throughout the country. While we all go about our days living our busy lives, remember that in a school somewhere in America, a teenager is sitting in a music room practicing on her violin, or gathering with classmates after lunch to jam some jazz riffs, or choreographing an original dance number. Those young people need us. More importantly, we need them. And props to Booker T Washington School for the Arts in Dallas. Keep up the great work! Here’s Roy and his band killing it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2001. RIP.