Roy Campbell Jr., who carried the soulful swagger of hard-bop trumpet into the jazz avant-garde, of which he became a pillar, died Jan. 9 at his home in New York. He was 61.
The cause was hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, said his sister, Valerie Campbell Morris, his only immediate survivor.
Campbell was a proud heir to the legacy of 1960s free jazz as established by trailblazers like the saxophonist Albert Ayler, the pianist Cecil Taylor and the trumpeter Don Cherry, the latter one of Campbell’s idols. Combining a pugnacious sound with an open-minded approach, Campbell worked with an array of colleagues in that lineage.
He was a fixture at the Vision Festival in New York, an annual celebration of avant-gardism and recorded his most recent album, “Akhenaten Suite,” in concert there in 2007.
As a composer and bandleader he favored strong rhythm and folkloric texture, putting those elements together in Tazz, an energetic quartet featuring piano, bass and drums, and Pyramid Trio, with the bassist William Parker and a succession of drummers. “Ethnic Stew and Brew,” a Pyramid Trio album released on Delmark in 2001, was one of Campbell’s most critically acclaimed.
For more than 20 years, off and on, he also stood front and center in Other Dimensions in Music, a ruggedly spontaneous band with Daniel Carter on reeds and flute (and sometimes trumpet), Parker on bass and Rashid Bakr on drums. He held a similar role as a member of the Nu Band, as well as in ensembles led by Parker, the pianist Matthew Shipp and the guitarist Marc Ribot.
Roy Sinclair Campbell Jr. was born in Los Angeles on Sept. 29, 1952, and raised from the age of 2 in New York. His mother, Erna Arene Forte Campbell, worked at a public school in New York; his father was a Wall Street communications specialist and a trumpeter himself. The younger Campbell began his musical training on piano and also learned flute and violin.
The trumpet became his focus during his senior year in high school, and from then on he moved quickly. Through the nonprofit music-outreach organization Jazzmobile, he studied with Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham and Howard McGhee — assertive trumpeters from different points on the bebop spectrum. He majored in trumpet at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, where he also studied theory and composition with the esteemed multireedist Yusef Lateef, who died last month at 93.
Campbell formed his first band, Spectrum, at 20, and began playing widely as a sideman, notably with Ensemble Muntu, a fixture on New York’s 1970s loft-jazz scene. He released his debut album, “New Kingdom”, in 1992, around the time he ended a two-year stint in the Netherlands.