Jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold is poised to become one of the greats

Keyon Harrold might very well be the second coming of Miles Davis. Or he may be the incarnation of a new type of musician, who uses the magic of his talent to reach people in a way that feels personal and current.

Harrold has worked with Jay-Z, Common, Eminem, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige and more

In 2015, Keyon Harrold provided the actual trumpet playing in the Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead, starring Don Cheadle as the legendary jazz pioneer. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Keyon Harrold might very well be the second coming of Miles Davis.

Or he may be the incarnation of a new type of musician, who uses the magic of his talent to reach people in a way that feels personal and immediate.

Harrold was in town for the Montreal International Jazz Fest last week, and I made arrangements to interview him while he was here.

The press agent gave me a number to call, which I assumed corresponded to an agent or a manager. But when I called, Harrold himself picked up the phone.

A few hours later, I was sitting down with one of the most important jazz musicians since John Coltrane — or the great Miles Davis himself.

Duke Eatmon, right, poses with Keyon Harrold and jazz drummer Thomas Harris of Montreal's The Q Band. (Duke Eatmon/CBC)

Harrold was born and raised in Ferguson, Missouri, a hotbed of racial tension ever since the fatal shooting by police of 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed black student, at a local convenience store in 2014.

A protégé of jazz purist and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, Harrold was once called "the future of the trumpet" by the legendary horn player.

But his journey wasn't rooted in classical music alone. When Harrold moved to New York City to pursue his dreams, his first gig was playing with legendary Chicago rapper Common.

After graduating from the New School Of Jazz in Greenwich Village, Harrold became the trumpet man du jour, appearing on records by the who's who of hip hop: 50 Cent, Eminem, Jay-Z, Beyonce and Mary J. Blige.

In 2015, he provided the actual trumpet in the Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead, starring Don Cheadle.

Keyon Harrold has played on the albums of Jay-Z, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Eminem and many other super-successful artists. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Here are highlights from that interview.

Q. You're no a stranger to Montreal. You actually did a stint with Cirque du Soleil?

I did a nice stint from 2011 to 2014 working with Cirque du Soleil for the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour. Incredible experience. I love the city. I love the vibe. I love the poutine. I'm seriously wondering why that's not an international thing.

Q. Tell me about your new album, The Mugician.

Listen, the "mugicians" are the "healers" — the ones who can elevate vibes. You know, take people's psyche to another level. Sometimes you just need to get away because of all the real stuff that happens in the world. I mean, living in the United States, politically it's a terrible time to me, from my side. It's something I've never seen before, and it's getting worse day by day: the intolerance, the racism, the blatant sexism, the ridiculous hypocrisy of just the leadership. It's tough.

So sometimes we just need to get away. The "mugicians" are magical shamen of love, of hope and of difference.

What was it like working on Miles Ahead?

Listen, man, it was one of those kind of things where you can't think about it so much because if you do, you'll fall down. It's like walking on a tightrope because if you look down it's over. In retrospect now, I can look at it and say, you know, man, that was a fantastic experience!


Duke Eatmon is the regular music columnist on CBC Montreal's afternoon radio show, Let's Go.