On Working With Jazz Legend Horace Silver in the ’50s

Horace got me out of Detroit and working in New York. That put me in the spotlight. I made five recordings with Horace on Blue Note, as well as records with other Blue Note artists and other record labels too, when I first arrived. Horace put me on the scene in New York.

Horace rehearsed quite a bit. I would listen to all his piano playing, and his magnificent arrangements. I interpreted Horace’s music the way I felt it, and he was comfortable with that.

On His First Album as a Leader, Louis Hayes

I wasn’t really interested at that time [1960] in a being a leader on a record date. I was so comfortable then being accepted by these magnificent artists…I was satisfied with that. But Vee-Jay asked me to record, and Cannonball Adderley gave me his whole band, including Yusef Lateef and Nat Adderley. After we played at the Apollo, we recorded that night. I just played the way that I played normally. After that recording, I didn’t go for a second record as a leader until the 1970s, on Breath of Life.

On His New Blue Note Album, Serenade for Horace

I wasn’t going for a certain feeling on the album. We put together some songs we wanted to play and we improvised. We’re playing this art form, and you just play—and what comes out, that’s it!

On Emulation

There’s nothing a person can say to express feeling. Nothing you can do about that. Everyone is different, everyone plays differently. That’s in your body. It’s a feeling. But I watched other drummers. You can’t get the same feeling that they have, but you can do it your way. You don’t copy them, but you do it your way. Then that’s how it comes out. Art Blakey played the backbeat a certain way. I saw him many times. Now, I liked the feeling he had playing the backbeat. But he was built differently from me; I can’t play the backbeat that way. I play the backbeat my way. A person can watch you and understand.

On the Eternal Question “Can Swing Be Taught?”

No. You can’t teach somebody to swing or not be themselves. You can listen and know what swing is. That’s not complicated. When you approach the art form yourself, you can only play what comes out. When you get on the stage and play, everyone can see who you are. You can’t change a person’s body and brain. People ask me technical questions, if I emphasize the third or second beat. I never even thought about that. I just play. You have to put in the time practicing, depending on what you want to do. How it comes out, that’s up to you. Even if you try to play like somebody else, it will come out different anyway.

On the Priority of Time

The concept of time has changed. For some drummers time is not as important as it used to be. Playing a lot, and being able to accent and be heard and make the music more exciting—that’s what has basically taken over to a big degree. Some guys are not satisfied with just playing time, like they used to be.

On Maintenance

I have a warm-up routine. I have a few exercises that I do. Single-stroke rolls, double-stroke rolls. It’s not necessarily based on rudiments—I make up my own things. When I practiced growing up, I played what my mind and body wanted to do. It didn’t have anything to do with rudiments, but with how I wanted to express myself.


Louis Hayes plays Sonor drums and Sabian cymbals and uses Regal Tip sticks.