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For Keyon Harrold, Jazz St. Louis Role Is A Musical Homecoming

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Ferguson native and renowned jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold is Jazz St. Louis' creative adviser for a three-year term.

Renowned jazz musician Keyon Harrold works with the best in the music industry: Beyonce, Jay Z, Maxwell, Rihanna, Snoop Dog. He’s appeared on dozens of albums and major film projects, and he received acclaim for his trumpet performances in Don Cheadle's Miles Davis biopic “Miles Ahead.”

The Ferguson native is now offering his expertise to a St. Louis organization that was integral to his musical ascension: Jazz St. Louis. Earlier this month, the Ferguson native was appointed to a three-year term as the nonprofit organization’s creative adviser.

“I plan on using my experience and my reach to bring some of these people here, and to do something special,” he said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air.

For Keyon Harrold, Jazz St. Louis Role Is A Musical Homecoming
Keyon Harrold discusses his new role as the creative advisor at Jazz St. Louis, previously known as Jazz at the Bistro.

As a youth raised by two Christian ministers, Harrold recalled, “music was a pillar in our house.” His grandfather started the Memorial Lancers Drum & Bugle Corps of Greater St. Louis, and it was practically a requirement for him and his 15 siblings to join: “all of my cousins, all my brothers and sisters, we all had to be a part of this thing.” While he wanted to play the drums, that early grounding in the bugle proved integral to his future as a trumpeter.

By 14, he spent time getting mentored at Jazz St. Louis, which was then called Jazz at the Bistro.

“That was one of the things that really helped me and allowed me to learn, to see greatness, to see an image that I wanted to be, and to actually just sometimes even sit in and play with the legends,” he said, including Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride and Cyrus Chestnut.

These days, Harrold has no sympathy for jazz purists. He likes to blend his work with other musical genres, from hip-hop to rock.

“Jazz is an incredible art form, but there's only 12 notes, and the word jazz is one thing, but music permeates through it all. So I'm wanting to use the idea of music as a language, jazz as a language, to mix that with the R&B, to mix that with the rock and roll, and mix that with art, and mix that with so many different things to curate something special that most people wouldn't see.”

Social activism is also a passion Harrold weaves into his music after seeing and experiencing injustice in St. Louis, and the world.

“It’s just something that's been in my heart, to try to speak for the voiceless if I possibly can, to use my platform as a way to connect people and to free people, if that’s a thing,” he said.

Running (Refugee Song) featuring Gregory Porter, Common, Keyon Harrold and Andrea Pizziconi

Harrold's three-year appointment at Jazz St. Louis will focus on annual performances, including a five-night engagement in December 2021. He will also contribute to the Jazz Speaks and residency programs and close his stint with a commissioned piece that reflects the St. Louis community, in addition to other appearances, performances and events.

He suggested appearances with his famous friends aren’t out of the question.

“People just need an opportunity to do something special and they're ready to rock and roll — literally,” he said. “It doesn't matter if you're performing in front of one person or 100,000 people … no matter if it's a small venue or huge amphitheater, it doesn't even really matter. We're here to have a good time and we're here to blaze it out for people.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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