Among the many triumphs of the 11 year old Outside the Spotlight Series of improvisational and free jazz performances came when OTS was a mere three months old.
At the crest of a winter that makes this season’s run of grey and cold seem like a cool breeze, trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr. headlined the series’ only performance at what remains its most unexpected performance setting – the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Ballroom.
The time was February 2003, a period when half the city had been sitting in darkness and bitter cold for a week following an ice storm. Maybe that explained why the ballroom was so packed for an evening of abstract music. It was one of the few public locales with electricity.
Aided by two extraordinary co-horts that made up his Pyramid Trio – drummer Hamid Drake, an OTS regular, and the brilliant New York bassist/composer/improviser William Parker, Campbell triggered collective chases of fearsome immediacy with a series of improvisations – some of which ran for over an hour – for a crowd thrilled to be out of the cold and into the fire of jazz creativity. Even then-mayor Teresa Isaac sat in attendance for much of the concert.
It was a defining moment for OTS, one that introduced Lexington to the kind of music that can usually only found in large metropolitan cities with a schooled and adventurous arts scene. But the performance also came to the rescue of a frozen city with a considerable need of a jolt of living, breathing artistic expression.
Campbell died on Jan. 9 at the age of 61. The fact that his death didn’t reach the pages of the NewYork Times, which served the city he called home since the age of 2, until yesterday speaks to just how far removed from any kind of artistic mainstream his life and work extended.
There are scores of reasons why Campbell’s career deserves to be celebrated. They start with his bop roots and the various studies and apprenticeships he engaged in with such jazz pioneers as Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham and Yusef Lateef and run through his co-founding in 2003 with Dave Douglas of the Festival of New Trumpet Music in New York.
But from a purely selfish standpoint, all that pales next to the gift of musical warmth Campbell gave Lexington over a decade ago.