A “jazz standard” is defined as “a musical composition which is an important part of the musical repertoire of jazz musicians, in that they are widely known, performed, and recorded by jazz musicians, and widely known by listeners” (forgive me for quoting Wikipedia, but I think that’s a pretty good description).
By these terms, one would be hard-pressed to find a modern composition that deserves the title of “standard” more than Roy Hargrove’s “Strasbourg-St. Denis.” The song is ubiquitous at jam sessions, played by young bands and musicians in schools and in the clubs, and heard wherever there is a jazz radio station.
Hargrove has been releasing terrific records since the beginning of the ’90s, but he really hit pay with “Earfood,” the album on which today’s song was originally released. It hit the stores in 2008 and features Hargrove’s working band, Justin Robinson on alto/tenor sax and flute, Gerald Clayton on piano, Danton Boller on bass, and Montez Coleman on drums. This band is one of the most consistent in recent memory, and their time together on the bandstand and on the road has led to an amazing chemistry between them.
It’s strong album all the way through, but “Strasbourg-St. Denis” is the centerpiece. A simple song built off of just a few repeating chords, it’s power lies in the super-tight groove set up by the rhythm section and the strong melody, which alternates between a dancing unison horn line and a displaced descending line. I don’t know for sure, but I think with these two contrasting lines Roy was trying to give us a flavor of the Paris metro stop for which the song was named.
Here’s a live version of the song that was recorded in Paris just before the release of the album and featuring the same band:
That’s modern jazz at its finest as far as I’m concerned. Go pick up this, or any other album by Roy, and you won’t be disappointed. He tours constantly as well, so go the the band live!
As a bonus, here’s Roy on the all too short-lived PBS show Legends of Jazz, which was hosted by Ramsey Lewis. Here Roy burns through the standard “Invitation”:
I can’t believe we’ve made it this far into the month without talking Sonny Rollins. We’ll rectify that tomorrow.
Jason Parker is a Seattle-based jazz trumpet player, educator and writer. His band, The Jason Parker Quartet, was hailed by Earshot Jazz as “the next generation of Seattle jazz.” Find out more about Jason and his music at jasonparkermusic.com.