A TAPE IS MAKING ITS WAY through the underground of professional musicians and writers who keep one another up to date on developments in jazz. It captures a jam session led by trumpeter, saxophonist, and flutist Jay Thomas at the Water Street Deli in Port Townsend, Washington, during the Centrum jazz festival last summer. Following a guitar solo on the Charlie Parker blues composition “Relaxin’ at Camarillo,” a trumpet solo materializes at some distance from the microphone.
As the player moves closer, it becomes apparent that he has technical adroitness, range, and vigor. The enthusiasm and drive of the performance excite the audience. Yet the solo has flaws that indicate a lack of seasoning: hesitancy in phrasing, repeated runs, cracked notes that come from strain, a tendency to get trapped in eighth-note patterns, ideas that work rhythmically but not harmonically, dependence on phrases appropriated from Freddie Hubbard. Still, any knowledgeable listener would identify it as the work of a talented youngster capable of moving into the first rank. The trumpeter is Roy Hargrove, the 26-year-old prodigy who grew up in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas.
At the end of Hargrove’s solo, the 46-year-old Thomas picks up his trumpet and plays a solo of his own. It has assurance, continuity, easy swing, a burnished tone, and originality of ideas. Its harmonic sophistication shows a deep understanding of chords. The contrast in the two solos is between potential and achievement, and it illuminates the facts of life in a category of music dominated by the marketing of the youth movement. Hargrove, who unseated Wynton Marsalis to take first place in the trumpet division of the 1995 Down Beat readers poll and has won the Jazz Times readers poll for the past four years, is in demand around the world. As a bandleader, he has recorded nine CDs for two major labels, more albums than many name jazz musicians with forty-year careers, and he is a guest star on dozens of recordings, including the latest by Dave Brubeck. Thomas’ four albums are on obscure labels with little distribution. Most of his playing is in Seattle, and he doesn’t get as much jazz work as he wants.
At age twenty, Louis Armstrong was still a sideman on Mississippi riverboats. When Harry James was twenty, he was perfecting his virtuosity in Ben Pollack’s band. At twenty, Dizzy Gillespie moved from Philadelphia to New York and landed a job with Teddy Hill. The year before Miles Davis reached adulthood, he was enrolled at Juilliard but did his real learning under Charlie Parker, Benny Carter, and Billy Eckstine. Twenty-year-old Chet Baker was between stretches in Army bands. Marsalis at twenty was into his second year with Art Blakey. For each of them, stardom as a jazz trumpeter came only after apprenticeship, struggle, and seasoning. But since Marsalis zoomed to success in the early eighties, establishing youth and