Keyon Harrold’s genre-bending new album reflects his quest for inner peace
Keyon Harrold was mired in early-pandemic doldrums when he rustled up a few musician friends on his birthday and led an open-ended studio session in Las Vegas. There was no agenda; the Ferguson-born trumpeter already had his third solo album nearly completed, so the session was mainly about having fun.
“It turned out that the vibrations were so high that it ended up being the makings of ‘Foreverland,’” Harrold said, referring to the album he released earlier this month on the Concord Jazz label. The album he’d been working on remains on deck for a future release.
Harrold, 43, will present material from “Foreverland” when he performs at Jazz St. Louis tonight and Saturday.
The new record continues Harrold’s evolution from a teenage jazz phenom to an artist who blends jazz with influences from R&B, hip-hop and other styles into something new. “Foreverland” includes appearances by vocalists PJ Morton, Jean Baylor, Laura Mvula and Malaya; keyboardist Robert Glasper, and rapper Common, who gave Harrold an early-career bump when he hired the then-student for a national tour.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Jeremy Goodwin spoke with Harrold about the philosophy behind many of the songs on the new album, his time working with Jazz St. Louis and the high-profile 2021 incident in which a woman falsely accused his son of stealing her cellphone in a New York hotel.
Jeremy D. Goodwin: How did this album come together?
Keyon Harrold: I wanted to get my friends together, you know, take a trip, have a good time. But at the same time, it wasn't even supposed to be a record. But it turned out that the vibrations were so high that it ended up being the makings of forever. I was working on another record. That was pretty much complete. But this vibration is so high. I felt that it was more important than I put this record out before I even put out the other record.
Goodwin: Many of the songs are credited to the full group. It sounds like it was a really collaborative environment in there.
Harrold: Yes, an amazingly collaborative product. For instance, the song I made with PJ Morton, which is my newest single, “Beautiful Day.” I went to New Orleans, PJ Morton sat at the piano, I sat down next to him and that song was created there, in a really short amount of time. It was just a beautiful connection and an incredible song that has an incredible mantra: "It’s a beautiful day, because I say."
Goodwin: It’s that "because I say" part that’s important, right?
Harrold: Absolutely. If we stand resolute, we have the ability to have a different outlook. And we have the ability to move things forward the way that we need for our own personal lives and our own personal journeys. We’re all on a journey to get to the next thing, and our realities shift, moment to moment. The more often we have inner peace as our basis, the more often we can touch other souls, we can touch people, we can make connections that are beautiful and divine.
Goodwin: We hear you sing about some of these themes on the album. Have you sung so much on prior albums?
Harrold: For this record I really took the time to try to push my vocals to the forefront. From previous performances, special guests can’t always show up. So I would end up being the person who has to sing the lead, and I was coming to find out that many people actually preferred my voice sometimes, because it’s so personal.
Goodwin: You’ve said that sometimes a note on your trumpet says more than a word. What are some of the moments on this record where we really hear you emptying your heart through your horn?
Harrold: There’s many moments on the record that I pour my heart out into. Each and every note. It’s a visceral approach. Sometimes there’s words that can say what I’m trying to say. But sometimes there's just vibrations and the inner workings of the trumpet that can vibrate into someone’s heart.
Goodwin: This is your first record since the 2021 incident in which a 22-year-old white woman falsely accused your son of stealing her mobile phone and then attacked him. How does that make its way into the emotional soundscape of the album?
Harrold: My approach to music is an everyday, holistic approach. So anything that I’m thinking about, all of my experiences, all of my feelings, all of my lungs, all of my dreams, they all go into my projects. They all go into my music. They all go into my horn. The good, the bad and the ugly. So I’m always trying to push each one of those things out.
Goodwin: Since 2021 you’ve been creative adviser to Jazz St. Louis. How is that going for you, and what have you been able to do in that role?
Harrold: It's been a real honor to be the artistic adviser to Jazz St. Louis. Being able to engage with the community, being able to engage with the young musicians, being able to go to different schools, being able to present new music and present new artists to the Jazz St. Louis community has been an incredible experience.
I'm writing a piece to commemorate the three years that I've been there. So I look forward to presenting that as the last program of the season.
Goodwin: Is there anything more you can share about that?
Harrold: It’s going to be a very St. Louis-type of work. I'm still connected so strongly to the city. I love it with all of my heart. I’m a diehard Cardinal fan, a Blues fan. I'm even still a Rams fan, believe it or not. I'm totally so St. Louis.