Keyon Harrold was born and raised in Ferguson, MO, the St. Louis suburb that tore into America’s national consciousness in 2014 with the police shooting of Michael Brown and the bitter protests and riots that followed. While Ferguson looms large in Harrold’s album The Mugician, it examines our troubled times through a far wider lens than any one tragedy. Sweeping and cinematic, the music draws on elements of jazz, classicval, rock, blues, and hip hop to create something uniquely modern, unmistakably American. Guests including Pharoahe Monch, Gary Clark, Jr., Big K.R.I.T., Guy Torry, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Robert Glasper add to the record’s eclectic nature, but it ultimately triumphs as a unified, cohesive whole both because of Harrold’s virtuosic skill as a trumpeter and songwriter and because of his relentlessly optimistic belief in brighter days to come.
Harrold grew up one of 16 children in a family that prioritized music and community across generations. His grandfather was a police officer who retired from the force to found a drum and bugle corps for local youth, both of his parents were pastors, and nearly all of his siblings sing and perform music today. Culture shock hit Harrold hard at 18, when he left Ferguson for New York City to enroll in The New School. In New York, he landed his first major gig with Common, an experience which he says broadened his musical horizons beyond jazz to include funk, Afrobeat, R&B, and hip hop. Soon he was performing with stars like Snoop Dogg, Jay Z, Beyonce, Rihanna, Eminem, Maxwell, and Anthony Hamilton.