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Music

Trumpeter Rod McGaha Crafts a Lyrical Sound to Reflect the Human Experience

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Trumpeter and composer Rod McGaha has a sound that translates through many dialects in the tradition of Black American Music. Nicknamed the Preacherman, he has a vocal and roots-driven timbre on the instrument as distinct as his choice of notes.

The sensibilities in McGaha's sound can be traced to fellow Midwest trumpet heroes such as Miles Davis, Lester Bowie and Clark Terry. Growing up in Chicago, McGaha developed musically on local bandstands and abroad with explorers like Von Freeman and Steve Coleman, along with rhythm-and-blues singer-songwriter Gene Chandler. When Clark Terry heard a 21-year-old McGaha perform, he took note and invited the young trumpeter to an invitational band workshop that mentored and trained promising musicians. As an alum of both the Ellington and Basie bands, Terry taught McGaha a sound that was swinging and conversational.

Shortly thereafter, McGaha began touring with a gospel ensemble. In the 1990s he moved to Tennessee, where he now resides, and got a call from Terry. He accepted the invitation to join an all-star group known as Clark Terry's Tempestuous Trumpeters, alongside fellow young lions Nicholas Payton, Greg Gisbert and Ryan Kisor. Surrounded by the maximum firepower of brilliant peers and that of his mentor Terry, McGaha held his own: critic Howard Reich noted the "hard-driving and emotional" aspects of his playing during one show at Chicago's Jazz Showcase.

By the late '90s, McGaha accepted another invitation — to join legendary drummer Max Roach, who had founded a drums-plus bass-quintet that also included trombonists Delfeayo Marsalis and Julian Priester and fellow trumpeter Dr. Eddie Henderson. Roach stressed the importance of having a conversational improvising style, and composing music that reflected the human experience.

Since the early 2000s, McGaha has worked as a bandleader, songwriter, educator and visual artist. His most recent album, The Black Flower Project, traces the evolution of the development of a young Black woman from her youth to early adulthood. In our conversation, McGaha shares that he is compelled to reflect the social and political issues of the times, and he spoke about his his post-pandemic plans to present visual artistry in tandem with his musical discoveries.

Black Flower