ST. LOUIS — When Gene Dobbs Bradford, president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis, was seeking a candidate to fill the company’s new creative advisor role, he envisioned someone who could not only connect Jazz music to a broader audience, but also someone who was an effective communicator and not afraid to build strong communal relationships.
“I was interested in selecting someone who could create jazz events that would integrate other art forms including visual arts, Hip-Hop, and Blues music.” Bradford said.
He selected Keyon Harrold, Ferguson native, activist and Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter, as the best fit for the three-year appointment on behalf of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Harrold’s responsibilities will be to curate annual performances including a five-night engagement at Jazz St. Louis; involvement in the Jazz Speaks and residency programs for the 2022-23 season; and a commissioned piece that reflects on the St. Louis community that will conclude the 2023-24 season.
Among Harrold’s goals are spreading Jazz knowledge to a younger audience and ushering in a new wave of music and musicians to seasoned JSL members to highlight jazz’s evolution.
“I want to go into the schools doing outreach and mentoring kids in hope of impacting their artistic roles,” Harrold said. “I want kids to see what it takes to be great, a musician and see how you can have a deep love for music.”
Dobbs said Harrold’s focus on social activism “proves he knows how to communicate well, listen to others, and express his own views.”
Harrold and his 14-year-old son, Keyon Harrold Jr., were put center stage as activists and everyday African-Americans in late December after a racially charged incident in New York.
Harrold Jr., was confronted at the Arlo Hotel in Manhattan by a 22-year-old white woman, Miya Ponsetto, who falsely accused him of stealing her cellphone. He recorded and posted a now viral video to social media.
In the clips, Ponsetto asked the hotel’s manager for help, while Harrold was visibly in shock. The manager asked Harrold Jr. to surrender his phone. The video concludes with Harrold and his son trying to leave the hotel when the woman tackled the teenager. The hotel later told Harrold the woman’s phone had been found.
After two separate investigations by the New York Police Department and the Manhattan district attorney's office, she was charged with attempted assault, attempted robbery, grand larceny and acting in a manner injurious to a child.
In March, the Harrold family announced they had filed a civil lawsuit against Ponsetto and the Arlo Hotel.
Harrold’s no stranger to JSL, Bradford said. He recalls seeing him perform there as a teenager, when it carried the name Jazz at the Bistro.
“He would take the initiative to check out other artists and introduce himself after their performance,” Dobbs said.
“He not only had talent, but he also had some swagger, and I think that’s one of the things that’s helped him get to where he is today.”
Harrold is now working at a place he spent much of his youth learning and honing his craft full-circle. He compares it to coming home from college and introducing your school friends to your family.
“It really is a full circle dream where I get a chance to come home and really add to the beauty of St. Louis,” Harrold said.
Musically, I get an opportunity to bring amazing acts, artists, amazing ideas and vibes to St. Louis. I’m looking forward to that.”
Harrold graduated from the School of Jazz at The New School in New York City. His first major job was working with Common, and he’s since performed with JAY-Z, Maxwell, D’Angelo, Rihanna, Eminem, Snoop Dogg and Beyoncé.
He’s appeared on dozens of albums and film projects and received acclaim for his trumpet performances in Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead. His solo album, “Introducing Keyon Harrold” was released in 2009, and he cut The Mugician in 2017.