Record of the Week: Keyon Harrold ‘Foreverland’

Keyon Harrold has showcased his trumpet playing for various artists in the studio and on the road, most notably rapper Jay-Z on his 2007 hit “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is).” The trumpeter from Ferguson, Missouri started playing around the age of six studying the greats from Miles Davis to Clifford Brown and Clark Terry.

Harrold’s journey led him to a jazz camp in Colorado when he was a teenager and that’s where he met future collaborators Robert Glasper and Terrace Martin. He toured with Common for his breakout album Like Water for Chocolate in the early 2000s and eventually joined him at the only NPR Tiny Desk concert performed at the White House. Although grateful for these opportunities to share the studio or stage supporting different artists, Harrold has since branched out into his own creative work. He released his first record as the lead back in 2009 with Introducing Keyon Harold followed by his second effort The Mugician a decade later. Harrold and his trumpet are back front and center on his third solo project Foreverland, WNXP Record of the Week.

“To move to the front is a whole journey in itself,” Harrold said. “I’ve finally gotten there, and I’m happy about that. But I don’t take that experience for granted because I’ve learned a lot. You can’t lead unless you know how to follow. So that whole process has been a real visceral experience. Working with the great Gregory Porter and so many other people and seeing them do their thing and being there, but at the same time now it’s the other way around and I’m loving this part of it, too.”

In our conversation, Harrold discusses the Las Vegas jam session that sparked the making of Foreverland plus the inspiration behind the album’s title and its theme. He also talks about his friendships with Common and Robert Glasper, featured on the song “Find Your Peace,” his songwriting process with the artists featured on the record, and some artists he would like to play with that he hasn’t already. Listen to the full interview on our podcast channel and check out some highlights below.

Marquis Munson: When did the process for this latest album start and what’s the meaning behind the album’s title, Foreverland?

Keyon Harrold: Foreverland got its genesis in mid-pandemic. I was going through a lot of different things, the stuff that we go through in a visceral kind of way. Relationships, is it going to make it, it is not going to make it? I want to play music with people, but the pandemic doesn’t allow us to even be together. After two years of basically longing to play music together, I’m like, ‘I’m going to get my friends together and we’re going to go to Vegas and have a good time.’ It wasn’t a plan to do a record. It was a plan to just play, chill, and just be in a scenario where we could be together without worrying about catching COVID at the time. We can play and it will be just us and it’ll be our bubble. So that’s how it started. We recorded it, I got back and sent the music off to Chris Dunn at Concord Music, and he was like, ‘Yo, this is a vibe.’ So that was the beginning of it.

The name of the album was supposed to be Melancholy Aura, but that changed because my whole vibe changed. Everything about going through a relationship, it didn’t work out. I chose myself and my music over a relationship that actually didn’t last anyway, so that was a beautiful thing. That got me to the idea of Foreverland. I got a chance to work with an incredible artist from the UK, Laura Mvula, and the whole idea is about a longing of something that’s possible. Not just music, but just in love and life, that there’s always a possibility. This whole album has a strand of finding peace within and influencing the world outside of that. You have to find it in yourself. Foreverland is my ode to to peace of mind.

MM: I’m glad you mentioned Laura, because you have great songwriters on this album. From PJ Morton, Common, Jean Baylor, Malaya, Laura Mvula, what does the writing process and piecing these songs together look like when you’re in the studio collaborating with these different artists?

KH: It’s a beautiful interaction. Going back and forth with Common, trying to figure out, ‘Okay, is this is what we say or are we saying this?’ Coming up with the words with the incredible Jean Baylor from The Baylor Project, formerly known from the group Zhane. Just an incredible, silky voice that just makes any track sound amazing. She’s like cheese on a burger to me, she gets down. Sitting down with PJ Morton in New Orleans. I got a chance to go down there and get in the studio with him. The song “Beautiful Day” was just one of those things that it happened quick. In the studio, sometimes it doesn’t happen fast, but we sat down and within 30 minutes the whole idea of “Beautiful Day” was there. And it’s my mantra for every day now. ‘It’s a beautiful day because I say,’ a lot of times we get caught in the rigamarole of everyday life. But sometimes we got to change our perspective and shift it and say that it’s a beautiful day because I say, because I choose higher vibration.

MM: I love this quote you said when talking about the album you said, ‘What I can offer as a musician who plays an instrument with no words is an honest conveyance of emotion. Some of these notes, I play them because there’s not a better word.’ How therapeutic was making this album for you? Because when you listen to your trumpet playing on this record, you can definitely feel that emotion.

KH: The entire process has been so therapeutic. Even though it took a while for it to come out, I have just been waiting for everybody else to get a chance to listen to it and feel the vibrations. Because I felt that it came from an honest part of my life, and an honest part of all the musicians on it. From Chris Dave on the drums, Bernice Travis on the bass, Greg Phillinganes, a legendary pianist from working on Michael Jackson’s album Off the Wall and many Quincy Jones productions. And the rest of the people on the album, it was just a great way to outpour many of the emotions, feelings, and things that we were going through in the pandemic. I didn’t want to make a “pandemic record” because there’s a bunch of those. I wanted to have something real that would outlast the idea of a pandemic.

If somebody would have listened to this record in 20 years, they’ll know that it was about the real feelings that was going on in a human’s life versus it being about, ‘Okay, I did this because there was no other outlet because of the pandemic.’ I’m doing this because everybody goes through love issues. Everybody goes through family issues, everybody loses, and everybody hurts, very real emotions. In this time, it was cathartic because I had been dealing with stuff with my son. There were things that happened during the pandemic that changed my life that had to do with family. This was a incredible way to outpour my emotions and feelings in a fixed state with high vibrations.