Little did first-time director Eliane Henri know that the footage and interviews she filmed of her longtime friend, the acclaimed jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove, during his 2018 world tour would be a chronicle of the last year of his life. He passed away November 2nd of that year from a longterm kidney disease, after being on dialysis for 14 years.
Henri, who met Hargrove when she was 17, had known him for 28 years at the time of his death. In 2016, she asked him if she could make a documentary about his life, and started shooting Hargrove in January of 2018. In an interview with Billboard magazine, Henri said of the experience, “It was like he captured lightning in that last year, testifying and bearing witness to his experiences on planet Earth. Then he took off.”
History and the world of documentary filmmaking are the beneficiaries of her fortuitous timing. Onscreen, the musician is as magnetic as he is real in every frame. Since he will no doubt continue to grow in the esteem of jazz aficionados and music lovers, this film will stand as an important record of a great musician gone too soon.
People who aren’t jazz-heads may not know Roy Hargrove, but they’ve probably heard him on some recording. Posthumously elected to Downbeat Magazine’s Jazz Hall of Fame, Hargrove was known as a talent early on, and was discovered by Wynton Marsalis when he visited the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, before he went on to study briefly at Berklee and explode on the jazz scene. In 1990, his first album Diamond in the Rough put him on the A-list of jazz players. At only 24, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra commissioned him to compose an original jazz suite. He went on to win 2 Grammys and be nominated for 6 Grammys, winning twice. He had an ability to blend genres, and his work can be heard on albums that were both straight ahead jazz and those with more of a hybrid sound. Hargrove was a member of the Soulquarians, an experimental jazz collective that included D’Angelo, Questlove, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Common. He also performed on albums like D’Angelo’s Voodoo, and Erykah Badu’s Worldwide Underground. Badu was a schoolmate of Hargrove’s from Booker T. Washington, and a lifelong friend. In Variety, she said, “Roy was already a legend in high school. Truth is Roy was actually a legend starting in junior high.” Badu acted as executive producer on the documentary.
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