The bus is waiting. Louis Armstrong’s big band is ready to depart. The drummer has become ill, and a last-minute substitute is needed for one week. It is 1946, and Roy Haynes has been hanging at the right place in Harlem to make the connection. Just out of his teens, Roy already has a strong word-of-mouth reputation among musicians, so Armstrong takes him on. Roy steps aboard for the week-long journey—no rehearsals, no drum charts. He will just get on the first bandstand and swing Satchmo’s big band. Under these circumstances, it would be quite understandable for a musician to be a little nervous, or perhaps downright . . .
“Scared? No, I was never scared. That word was never in my vocabulary. I was already with Luis Russell’s big band and had experience playing shows. What was there to be afraid of?”
Roy doesn’t answer defensively to my cold-feet question. He is just genuinely surprised. “But after all,” I offer cautiously, “you were quite young.” Slouched down in his living room easy chair with a comfortably cocked baseball cap and legs raised up on a footstool, Roy suddenly sits erect. “You just come in like a little man and do the job. I wouldn’t have accepted it if I thought I was going to be afraid. I knew there were going to be new things, but I just prepared myself for that. I was a Boy Scout when I was 12 years old. The motto was ‘Be Prepared,'” he laughs.
“The first trumpet player in the band was named Fats Ford,” Roy continues. “The first trumpet would usually sit on the left-hand side of the drummer. He would tell me what was coming up eight bars ahead before we played the arrangement. I would just listen to him, and go ahead and play the arrangements.
“A lot of big bands in those days didn’t have drum charts. Drummers would make their own charts. Louis Armstrong’s band didn’t have drum charts during the time I was with him. In Duke’s band, not only the drummer, but the band often wouldn’t even be reading music. Either they remembered a lot or he would just tell them what to hit. Those guys in the band were amazing. Most of the players at that time weren’t fortunate enough to have gone to music school like some of the ones today who have studied and can read anything. At that time, your school was playing with the band—learning with them. That’s where I got my experience.
”I happened to be at 126th Street and Eighth Avenue. That’s where all the greatest musicians in the world would be. I used to go there to see buddies. A lot of bands used to leave from there at the Hotel Braddock—big bands. Armstrong’s bus was there ready to leave, and I happened to have time off from Luis Russell’s band. I left with Armstrong, and went down South to play in tobacco warehouses and places like that. All you had to do was swing, man, and play with some feeling—back up the solos and shade. Playing loud and soft was called shading. Most of it came naturally to me. I had ears. I could hear anything.”
Roy tackled big jobs when he was young, but he certainly wasn’t green. Born in the Roxbury section of Boston on March 13, 1926, Roy honed his craft with Boston-based jazz notables such as bandleader Sabby Lewis, saxman Pete Brown, and trumpeters Frankie Newton and Felix Barbozza (Phil Edmund). If Boston night lifers diverted their glance from a showgirl’s kick long enough, they might have glimpsed an eager, underaged drummer in their midst.
“I used to play at Little Dixie in Boston, which is now Wally’s. As a teenager, I played with several bands, and we used to play a floor show with dancing girls and all. There were some great show drummers in Boston. There was a guy by the name of Bob Eliot. All he used was a snare drum and a cymbal at a place called Izzy Ortz’s, a fabulous place where all the sailors used to hang out during World War II. They would start the music at 1:00 in the afternoon and go until 1:00 in the morning. The bands would take shifts. Bob was a hell of a show drummer. I used to sit and listen to this guy, and then I played the intermission. When that show came off, I would go up with a trio and play. So I had all kinds of experience with shows in Boston, even before I came to New York.”
Bandleader Pete Brown was so impressed with the young drummer that he made a special effort to ensure that Roy worked legally. Trekking over to see the head of the Boston school board, Pete got clearance for the gifted young player to work in the clubs pending that he wouldn’t touch the drinks.
Years later, Boston officially honored their native-son-made-good when the Boston Jazz Society sponsored Roy Haynes Day in 1978. Papa Jo Jones, one of Roy’s primary influences, proudly attended the ceremony, and speakers included Alan Dawson and Billy Taylor. On that day, an annual Roy Haynes scholarship was established for the benefit of promising music students. Jo Jones’s presence was a special honor to Roy. “Younger drummers who never got to see Papa Jo play,” Roy says, “missed the treat of their lives.” Like so many jazz drummers of his generation, Roy was influenced by Jones from an early age.
“Jo Jones had a feeling—a looseness. He had a happy sound. He was something to watch, especially with a big band like Basie’s. That was it! When I was about 16 years old, I would go to the RKO theater in Boston to see him. When he started his solo, it was something special—different. It wasn’t about playing fast. It was that warm sound. He ‘ invented ‘ the sock cymbal. The way he played it was beautiful to listen to and watch. He didn’t have to play a solo; just a two-bar break was beautiful.”
Behind the set, Roy also has a looseness in his limbs and a physical quality of relaxed confidence. Not surprisingly, this quality carries beyond the set: in his walk, his talk, his smile, and his humor.
The road from playing floor shows to performances at the White House and in the court of the King and Queen of Thailand has been a long one. Roy’s hometown tribute was well deserved. Ironically, the city that honored him was a town with segregated black and white musicians’ unions at the time Roy joined. A notice reached Roy in 1945 through the black union informing the young drummer that Luis Russell wanted him to join his big band. With Russell’s band, Roy got a taste of the traveling life in a big band bus. The segregated status of the union in his own hometown only mildly foreshadowed the injustices awaiting black musicians on the road during the ’40s.
“Boston was different when I grew up,” Roy recalls. “Now you hear about all the problems in South Boston over the past few years. But I had never been down South. I hadn’t known that everything was segregated until I went below the Mason-Dixon line with Luis Russell’s band. Even in Roxbury, it was different. To the right of our house were white French Canadian people, on the left side were Irish people—the Kellys—and across the street was a Jewish synagogue. And, man, I was involved in all of that, [laughs] But when you went to Miami or even New Orleans, you had to stay in your hotel on your side of town. Man, it’s emotional talking about that. It’s hard. Talking about that is like reliving it.”
Roy shakes his head in disbelief over the surge of memories. Then his recollections jell, and he draws a positive overview from the memories of tribulation: “But, you see, it’s an advantage in the music field that you get a chance to see more, experience more, and live more. I could write a book.”
Settling in New York in 1945, Roy wasted no time in hopping the subway to 52nd Street, where he would listen to musical favorites that he had enjoyed on records: jazz pioneers such as Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, and Dizzy Gillespie. After two years with Russell, Roy landed a gig with sax giant Lester Young. During these years, New York was the indisputable mecca of jazz. The clubs and ballrooms were in their jazz heyday. Jazz buffs could club-hop the 52nd Street area and catch a cast of musical legends all within a few blocks. Roy found himself smack in the center of the City’s creative circles. In his first week with Lester Young during October 1947, Roy could barely believe his fortune to find himself playing Town Hall with the sad-eyed saxman and with vocalist Billie Holiday. An engagement at the Savoy Ballroom with Young also began at that time.
“The time with Lester Young was beautiful,” Roy smiles. “He was very sensitive about drummers. I stayed with him for two years. The only reason I left was that he went with Norman Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic in 1949, and the band was off for a while. That’s when I started playing on 52nd Street with different people. He never told me what to play. He was thrilled with my playing the first time I played with him.”
Highly syncopated and aggressively driving, Roy’s drumming fit in perfectly with the younger generation that was shaking up jazz. He fell into the circle of New York players that formed the nucleus of bebop. “We weren’t calling it ‘bop’ then,” Roy stresses. “It was just the music we were playing.” A famous photograph from that period, shot at the Open Door, shows Roy, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus cramped onto a small bandstand. The photo captures one night’s entertainment at one small New York club. But the collective, far reaching impact suggested by the picture is staggering. More than just a band, each musician represents a major influence on the history of jazz.
“I knew about Charlie Parker even before I came to New York. A saxophone-player friend from out West used to tell me about him. Finally, the record ‘ Groovin ‘ High ‘ came out. Of course, I had heard Charlie Parker on the Jay McShann records in the early ’40s. But I hadn’t really settled in with him until ‘Groovin’ High.’ When I would go to 52nd Street, I would listen to Charlie Parker with Dizzy and Max Roach in the band.
“I started with Parker in the fall of 1949 at The Three Deuces on 52nd Street. Max had been his drummer, but he left to start his own band. I replaced him. I continued with Parker up until 1952 and then periodically after that. I had already played with Miles Davis by that time. In 1949, I played with Miles’ first group when he left Charlie Parker. We started at a club called Soldier Meyers’ in Brooklyn. Miles always used to say that Charlie Parker stole his drummer.
“I opened Birdland up in December of 1949 with Charlie Parker. Monte Kay booked the musicians for the club. One rhythm section would have to play about 45 minutes with Bird, and then play a short set with someone else such as Stan Getz or Harry Belafonte. It worked out so that, naturally, the club saved money. But it was a hell of an experience at that time to do all those things.
“There was a midget by the name of Pee Wee Marquett, who was the host of Birdland. He also collected the tickets at the door. He would introduce the groups. You may have heard him introducing the band on some records. He had a very high voice. When you walked into the club to play for the evening, Pee Wee would hand you a slip of paper with the time schedule of your sets. The sets would vary on different nights. Sometimes there would be two or maybe three groups within a night. Some nights you would have to play five sets.
“During the earlier days, a few special people would occasionally sit in. Billie Holiday sometimes sat in. One time, Oscar Peterson sat in when he first came in from Canada. He was getting ready to appear at Carnegie Hall and was a new young star. When I was with Sarah Vaughan, it was different. She didn’t necessarily play five sets when she performed.
“In Birdland, they had the section they called ‘the bleachers’ for the youngsters under drinking age. They sold malted milks and ice cream. You could sit there if you just wanted to listen but didn’t want to drink. When it first opened, you could go in for 98 cents and stay all night. The music went from 9:00 or 10:00 until 4:00 in the morning.
“The room was a basement that had good live sound, especially for a room with a low ceiling. Because it was named Birdland, after Charlie Parker, they had live birds in cages when it first opened up. All the birds died from so much smoke and no sun.
“I had a lot of great nights there: opening up with Bird, of course, playing there in the ’60s with Coltrane, and also performing with my own groups. One of my highlights was playing there with my trio featuring Phineas Newborn. He was all over that piano. Phineas had that rhythm thing—very percussive. The notes were sharp—hittin’. It gave me something to play with. We played well together; we had a nice rapport. But the years I remember about Birdland with the most fondness were the ’40s and ’50s. During that time, there was a lot of love. Playing in New York then was like a dream.”
The dream was made from the stuff of fine music, but also from the awareness of Roy and his peers that they were paving the forefront of modern jazz. “Bud Powell told me, ‘These cats will be playing what I’m playing now ten years from today,’ ” Roy laughs. Powell’s boast was bold but has, of course, since been proven true. The same can be said for Roy and each member of Parker’s group. And Parker himself is commonly credited as the man most responsible for changing the future of the jazz solo.
The word “genius,” Roy believes, is overused by jazz critics. Many of the leaders he has worked with are clearly acknowledged as geniuses by most jazzophiles. “But,” Roy explains, “if there ever was one genius in my career, it was Charlie Parker.” The stature acquired by Bird and his band inspired them with a special urgency that sparked their audiences.
“When we would go places with Charlie Parker—like Cleveland or Philadelphia—we would often open up with a matinee. When we arrived, the place would be packed. They were waiting for Bird to come. You could just feel the tension and emotion when you walked in. Bird was late often, but when he came in, he would burn. Oh, man, it was just such a thrill to be there—to be on the bandstand.
“Today, everybody has listened to everything Bird has played, and it has been copied so much that somebody else will play it and say, ‘Why is he so much of a genius? I can play that.’ But at that time . . . !
“Charlie Parker never really told me what or how to play. That’s one of the things you sometimes find with that type of genius—more so than today: Everyone now is ready to tell you what to play. Everyone wants to tell drummers what to do. Fortunately, that doesn’t concern me much, because I prefer to do my own projects. The only thing I remember Charlie Parker telling me, if we were playing a big hall, was, ‘Keep it down at first until you get the feeling of the room.’ Other than that, we just played. I would listen—just grasp. You have to be on the stand and play drums, especially when you play with a lot of different people.
“One of the things that I can do on the bandstand is to make somebody sound good. As a drummer, you have a lot to do. You’re supposed to make everything sound good. The drummer can make ’em or break ’em. I used to play a tape for my band of Baby Dodds talking about what the drummer’s role is. He said, ‘You can put evil in somebody’s mind. If you’re evil, you’re going to play evil and put it into somebody else’s mind!’ And that’s true, man.”
Arriving at Roy’s house for our second interview, I find him already waiting in his car attired in a white tennis visor, striped shirt, white trousers, and polished two-tone shoes. It’s a perfect July day, and Roy has decided to kidnap me to a cafe overlooking the beach where the weather can be better savored.
After ordering, Roy later attempts to catch the waitress as she hurries by. At first, he is unsure if he has called over the right one. “Are you our waitress? Oh, yes, I recognize you by the stain,” he says pointing to a large spot on her apron. She rolls her eyes up, trying to restrain her exasperation. “Uh-oh,” Roy says. “I guess she doesn’t feel like being kidded today. I think she’s new here.”
I point out to Roy that the house manager has rushed over to the next table to apologize for a hub-bub over service. “Apparently she’s having one of those classic bad days on the job,” I say. The waitress returns several times in the course of our stay, and each time, Roy’s friendly kidding breaks the ice a little bit more. By her last trip to our table, Roy’s smile has succeeded, and she gives in with a big, silver-braced smile.
Over the onion soup, Roy talks about another influential spokesman of the saxophone who first shared the bandstand with him as a young up-and-coming figure in the ’40s: Sonny Rollins. “Sonny and I recorded together with Bud Powell, and played together with Monk and also with Miles in ’49. I also once used Sonny and Kenny Dorham at the Audobon Ballroom on a one-night gig.
“When I was with Lester Young, Sonny used to come up to my place with a pianist I knew. I didn’t even know, at that time, that Sonny played an instrument. Then I started hearing about this tenor player named Sonny Rollins. I thought it must be another guy. Then I saw him one Saturday night, about 4:00 in the morning at the place where musicians went after their gigs to have breakfast before going to bed. He had a horn with him, and I asked him about it. He said, ‘Oh, yeah, I had a little gig.’ I guess he just thought that I knew he played.”
When I mention vocalist Sarah Vaughan to Roy, he quickly interjects, “She’s not just a vocalist.” For five years, Roy graced Sassy’s sets with the steady but loose flow that fit her style so well. The steady gig with Sarah, starting in 1953, was Roy’s longest stay with one leader. “She’s brilliant. More than a singer, she’s a great musician. I played a lot of very slow ballads with brushes. I had a way of playing the brushes for those tunes. I used to lead with the right hand and play the beat with the left hand.” Roy demonstrates with his hands, fingers outstretched against a notebook cover. The right hand swirls in circles, carrying the “swish,” as the left hand pats the rhythmic pattern lightly with a direct-to-the-head stroke. “It was more of a free thing, rather than an obvious beat.”
During the Vaughan years, Roy also drummed for projects with Phineas Newborn and Thelonious Monk. After his departure from Sarah in 1958, short-term engagements ensued with George Shearing, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Kenny Burrell, and Stan Getz, with whom he has worked periodically throughout his career.
It is often said that Roy and his friend, Elvin Jones, were the drummers most responsible in the ’60s for challenging the tyranny of the “2 and 4.” The end of dependence on the 2 and 4 hi-hat was compounded with increasingly asymmetric syncopations as drummers and bass players implied bar lines more than defined them. But the truth is that, when one traces Roy’s playing, his feel and musical concept always tended towards this direction. The rhythmic elasticity heard from groups like Coltrane’s quartet merely brought to the public’s attention what Roy had on the burner for years. Roy didn’t change to better fit ’60s jazz; ’60s jazz changed and better fit Roy.
“I never really liked that strict 2 and 4 anyhow. I’ve done it a lot of times on record dates, because the artist I was playing with needed that or wanted that. In fact, I don’t like to do it steady because maybe I can’t! [laughs] Even on some of Eric Dolphy’s first dates, I played the 2 and 4 on the hi-hat a lot, and I don’t know why I did it.
“When you talk about adapting to different styles, I think it’s all part of the same family. It’s just a matter of bringing out what the artist can deal with. Coltrane had grown more. It was the “60s when I was playing with him, whereas Bird was the late “40s and early ’50s. Coltrane was ten years later. I had that kind of playing in mind anyhow, but I couldn’t play the way I played with ‘Trane with everybody. A lot of artists didn’t understand: They would have felt that that style would get in the way. With some people, you just have to play ding-ding-a-ding. That’s all they want to deal with.
“I have to tell you what Ray Brown once told me. He was doing a studio date. I think it was for a motion picture. The drummer did a drum break. Suddenly, the conductor stopped the band and told the drummer, ‘I don’t want any of those Roy Haynes drum breaks.’ [laughs]
“If I’m playing that way, the musicians have the beat inside them anyway. I prefer playing with musicians who are up to that level. If you feel that [snaps a beat], you don’t have to play it. It’s there. It’s like a weighing scale. You do more on one side, but it evens off on the other.”
On a recent date at New York’s Blue Note backing Jon Hendricks’ group, Roy could be seen occasionally removing his left foot from the hi-hat pedal entirely and resting it on the pedal frame. “It’s just a habit,” says Roy. But it is significant that he is comfortable to be physically, as well as musically, free from the foot’s anchor. “That’s something I’ve been doing for a long time. I hope it looks good,” he laughs. “I just feel comfortable doing it. The 2 and 4 is within us. If I’m playing with somebody, I like to keep it smooth. I shouldn’t have to give someone 2 and 4 each time. The heartbeat should take care of that—the natural feeling.”
That’s something Roy has plenty of. He considers his natural feeling to be the source of his talent. And as a natural, he largely perfected his craft without formal training, except for a summer term at Boston Conservatory in 1944. “You can get your own technique that’s not in the book by doing it over and over, and knowing what you’re doing,” he says. “It just happens as it happens. At least for me, that’s how it has worked.” That special natural feeling is expressed with an impressively clean and sophisticated technique.
While calling Roy to plan a follow-up interview, I point out to him that we didn’t get a chance to discuss technique on our previous meeting. “Good,” he replies with a laugh. Roy’s nonverbal approach to technique partially explains why he chooses not to teach. But for those drum scholars who deserve his wisdom, observing Roy play live is an education in rhythm-section control, four-limb independence, motivic ingenuity, dynamic sensitivity, and driving energy. Watching his right hand alone is worth a college credit in cymbal riding.
Roy’s penchant for progressive style resulted in artistic dilemmas even as early on as 1951: Duke Ellington had invited him to join his band, but Roy felt it was best to decline the offer. “I was with Bird at the time. I had played with a big band before, so I knew that, during that period, a lot of the older guys were very hard on drummers—especially drummers who were trying to do something new. When you play in a big band, you have to carry the band. You can’t be constantly experimenting. So I knew the older guys in Duke’s band were not going to dig that.
“I knew Duke could dig it. In fact, Duke made a big thing about that. Every time I would see him someplace, he would always mention it to me. Duke’s format was great. I loved to listen to the band. But not accepting the invitation relates to what I mentioned before about ‘playing Roy Haynes breaks.’ ”
In the ’60s, Roy lead his own quartet, which featured Frank Strozier on reeds, pianist Kenny Barron, and bassist Larry Ridley, in addition to keeping busy with tenorman Stan Getz. Out of the immense library of discs to which Roy has contributed, he considers a certain Stan Getz cut to be one of his finest. “The tune was, ‘I’m Late, I’m Late,’ from the album Focus. Eddie Sauter did the arrangements. There weren’t supposed to be drums on that. So they had me play in the spaces when there was nothing happening. And Stan and I traded bars. It was very interesting.”
At a time when many bandleaders were not yet comfortable with the liberated rhythmic styles, John Coltrane was seeking them out. “At one time, Coltrane used to come up to where I was playing. I had Dolphy on sax and Reggie Workman on bass. We were playing a place in the Village, and ‘Trane was working at the Vanguard. After ‘Trane was finished, he would come over to our gig and sit in the back. Before I knew it, he had Reggie and Dolphy in his band.”
Later, Roy followed, drumming with Coltrane during the periods when ‘Trane’s steady drummer, Elvin Jones, was unavailable. In J.C. Thomas’ Coltrane biography, Chasin’ The Trane, Roy speaks of the saxman’s “drum fixation”: “He always played off the drums. He told me the drums freed him; he didn’t have to worry about chord changes. He got the freedom to play what he wanted from working directly off the drums.”
Even many jazz journalists hadn’t realized, until they heard him with Coltrane, that Roy’s modern drum concept had been in his hands all along. “I was playing with Coltrane in Chicago and a critic mentioned to me, ‘I didn’t know you could play like that!’ I knew what he was trying to say, but I didn’t like his approach. So I said, ‘Well, if you didn’t know, you should have asked Elvin.’ [laughs] In other words, Elvin knew me a long time ago. He knew me before he came to New York. We met around 1951, when I was playing the Michigan State Fair with Ella Fitzgerald, and Elvin’s brother, Hank, was on piano. I went to Detroit by train, and Elvin took me by the train station to get my drums. We hung out during that period. He would be working someplace, and I’d come by his gig and sit in. Later, Elvin came to New York and became very popular.
“Anyway, this critic called up John Coltrane, and John ended up writing something in a magazine about his group. John made a statement on my drumming that ended up on the liner notes of To The Beat Of A Different Drummer.” The “critic” was Don DeMichael, former down beat editor, who followed ‘Trane’s career closely. DeMichael and Coltrane coauthored a feature in down beat chronicling the quartet’s progress. Coltrane’s definitive words on Roy were: “Roy Haynes is one of the best drummers I’ve worked with. I always tried to get him when Elvin Jones wasn’t able to make it. There’s a difference between them. Elvin’s feeling was a driving force. Roy’s was more of a spreading, a permeating. Well, they both have a way of spreading the rhythm, but they’re different. They’re both very accomplished. You can feel what they’re doing and can get with it.”
To The Beat Of A Different Drummer: The Mastery Of John Coltrane Volume II (Impulse Records) is a tribute to Roy that includes classic ‘Trane cuts and previously unreleased tracks that feature Roy on drums exclusively. The double album also serves as an official effort by Impulse to set the record straight: Some previous Impulse albums had mis-credited the musicians. Elvin Jones has been credited for several cuts on which Roy actually played, and Different Drummer corrects the errors.
Several historic Eric Dolphy recording dates went to tape in the ’60s supported by Roy’s deft touch. On tunes like “Bird’s Mother,” from the album, Far Cry, one can hear Roy cooking away, complementing Dolphy’s quirky, broken-up blowing on the head section, but always maintaining the straight-ahead drive. Roy’s rhythmic response to Eric’s sax serves as the perfect bridge between Dolphy’s traditional background and his leanings towards the avant-garde angularity that he evolved into on the later albums, such as Out To Lunch.
Like Parker and ‘Trane, Dolphy’s controversial style in his later period rattled some traditional jazz fans and critics, and inspired others to compare his groundbreaking influence to Charlie Parker’s. “A lot of the younger people writing today like to compare Eric Dolphy to Charlie Parker,” Roy says, “but you can’t really compare the two. I was with both of them. Eric wasn’t to be compared to Charlie Parker. It wasn’t that type of genius. He was talented and studied, but Charlie Parker was just a rare person. Dolphy probably would have become even greater than he did, if he had lived longer. He was still growing.
“I knew Dolphy before he played the way people remember now. I knew him when he was playing in a style closer to Bird’s. We were together a lot—even before he came to New York to get a record contract. He wanted me to make his first record date, and I didn’t know what he had in mind for music. What came out just happened. He didn’t describe too much of what he wanted me to do. In fact, if I had played a lot of the tunes we recorded longer, I probably would have played different things on them. But we just went in the studio and became familiar with the tunes there on the spot.”
Tracing the entire recorded Haynes oeuvre is a big job. Roy has played so many important album sessions that he can’t quite recall many of the titles right off the cuff. At his Long Island home, a small record collection of no more than 40 albums sits below a turntable. “I don’t even have most of my own records around. I have them at another house. Otherwise, everybody comes in and wants me to play through all my records,” he laughs.
Of the albums Roy recorded as a leader, he names We Three, featuring pianist Phineas Newborn and bassist Paul Chambers, as one of his favorites. Originally released in 1958, it has been recently reissued by Prestige/New Jazz Records to Roy’s delight. “I got a call one night from a DJ who was on the air. He said, ‘I’m playing your record, Out Of The Afternoon.’ After that he played something from We Three, and it blew my mind! I wanted to call him back up and thank him. When people do things like that, it just touches you. I didn’t even know that We Three was on the play list. And I heard it again the next day. It gives you a little boost—especially to hear something that old come back. You know, We Three was very big in Japan.
“Stewart Troop, who writes for Newsday, called me the other day. He had received a questionnaire from a publication that wanted to know his favorite recordings from 1960 until now. He wanted to put in We Three, but he wasn’t sure if it was recorded before 1960. I couldn’t answer him, because I didn’t know for sure either,” Roy laughs.
Other recommended samples of Roy’s work as a leader include the albums Hip Ensemble, Senyah (Mainstream); Thank You, Thank You, Vistalite (Galaxy) and Out Of The Afternoon, (Impulse). Notable recording as a sideman include Charlie Parker—The Verve Years, 1952-54 (Verve); Lester Young—The Aladdin Sessions (Blue Note); Outward Bound, Out There, and Far Cry (Prestige/New Jazz) with Eric Dolphy; At The Five Spot (Milestone) and Misterioso (Columbia) with Thelonious Monk; Sarah Vaughan (Trip); Selflessness and Impressions (Impulse) with John Coltrane; Miles Davis Band (Prestige); Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Solid State) with Chick Corea; Times Square (ECM) and Duster (RCA) with Gary Burton; Blues And The Abstract Truth (Impulse) with Oliver Nelson; Barefoot Boy (Flying Dutchman) with Larry Coryell; and Stan Getz (Prestige). Ten points go to any collectors aware that Roy also played on Ray Charles’ R&B hit, “One Mint Julep.”
With so many perfectly cut gems in the Haynes discography, there are bound to be a few tracks in the rough. Roy recalls one such track with amusement. “I remember one record I made with Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins, and Fats Navarro in 1949. We played an original of Bud’s called ‘Wail.’ After the solos, I played the bridge, and the horns came in at the wrong place. When I went to Japan, fans would be debating over the record, saying, ‘No! This is wrong. He should have come in there!’ [laughs] It was actually Fats Navarro who lead Sonny Rollins in. After we listened to the playback, we didn’t have any more time to remake the record. So Bud Powell said, ‘Awww, people will listen to it and think we’re a bunch of geniuses!'”
Like many other jazz drummers of his generation who prefer the natural recorded sound of drums, Roy is dissatisfied with the controlled drum sound that has become standard in today’s studios. “A lot of studios now would rather use their own drums. When I go into a studio with my drums open, it takes a while before we can come to any agreement about the sound. I don’t keep them wide open, because studios are not geared for that today. I haven’t been to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio recently, but that was one of the few studios I knew that had a good drum sound. The sound there was tremendous. The drum sounded like a drum.
“I was recently in the studio and did a track with the Manhattan Transfer. But I went in and the drum sound was terrible. The Van Gelder days were different. It wasn’t like a studio. It was like playing in a church. It looked like a cathedral inside— with a high wooden ceiling. When I was with Galaxy Records, they had their own studio, and the drums sounded terrible there also.”
The Roy Haynes Hip Ensemble was a powerful quintet formed in 1969, originally fronted by gifted tenorman George Adams and trumpeter Charles Sullivan, two outstanding brassmen who perfectly complemented the commanding spontaneity of Roy’s drumming. Although artistically strong, the band didn’t attract the media and record-buying public attention that it deserved.
“Now that I look back, maybe if I stayed at it, the Hip Ensemble would have pushed through, with the right people handling it. It could have happened, because we had some great moments. Our first gig was one or two weeks at an acid rock place on 46th Street called Steve Paul’s The Scene. Jimi Hendrix came down on our last night. I wanted him to sit in. He would come up to the bandstand, talk, and buy us a bottle of champagne. It was a great feeling.
“Another time we were playing in Harlem at a club called Count Basie’s around 1969. Stevie Wonder came by and sat in on my drums. It blew my mind! I keep my drums open. I don’t have them padded the way they do today in the studios. You can find any of the notes on my drums on the piano. It’s not just a thud. It’s a musical sound, and I dig that. So Stevie was knocked out by my drums. He said, ‘What brand of drums are these?’ He was thrilled, man. And his concept was different. He killed me. It was one of the exciting moments of the Hip Ensemble.
“Another exciting time I remember was at the Newport In New York Jazz Festival around 1971. The lineup of the Ensemble at that time was George on sax, Hannibal Marvin Peterson on Trumpet, Carl Schroeder on piano, and Don Pate on bass. The show was at Carnegie Hall, and the bill was Weather Report, Archie Shepp’s group, The Tony Williams Lifetime, and the Hip Ensemble. We had a rehearsal at The Needle’s Eye, and when we got to Carnegie Hall, we burned. We got a standing ovation.
“One time I was playing with the Hip Ensemble in Paris at a club, and there was a tune in which I played the same tom-tom beat all the way through. The drumbeat was the theme of the song. I went into my solo, and I started out with my theme. Then I would vary, and then go back to the theme throughout. All of a sudden, a tall African guy raised his arms and went into a dance with the drums that blew my mind. Joe Newman happened to be in the audience. He came over afterwards and said, ‘You played something that got to that guy!’ There is something to the beat.
“One of the many times I’ve gone to Japan to play was with the Hip Ensemble. The first time I went to Japan was in the ’60s with a group called Four Big Drummers, which was Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Philly Joe Jones, and myself. Now, that was very exciting. We would open up all together. Each drummer would exchange four bars several times, and then we all played with the rhythm section.”
For most of his career, Roy has played Ludwig drums, and he remains a long-time endorser. Up through the ’60s, Roy commonly used a standard small jazz kit, but was later one of the few jazz players who expanded to experiment with a large, multi-tom set. He now prefers playing smaller kits once again.
“I had a ball when I was playing all those drums, but I’m not really into that now. I wanted to get back to the intimacy of a small set. I played in Switzerland with Trio Music last summer, and Paiste had big racks of equipment there—bells, chimes, cymbals. When I played my solo, it was nice to get a lot of different sounds. It changed the whole dimension, and I do enjoy that also.
“Everyplace Trio Music goes, it’s in the contract for the place to have a timpani there. At most of the concerts, they were pedal timpani. I approach it like another drum—the depth of the timpani itself— and I change it to get the different highs and lows. Some nights we had some very good timpani that I could work with: The pedals were loose, so I could move them up and down. Some nights I’d get a timpani, and the pedal wouldn’t even move.”
Trio Music, a group featuring Chick Corea and Miroslav Vitous, is one of Roy’s ongoing projects. In July, they completed a successful U.S. and Canadian festival tour, and a live album is in the planning.
The White House first resounded with Roy’s beat during Johnson’s administration, when Roy performed with Stan Getz. More recently, Trio Music was featured in a televised White House concert by Reagan’s invitation. “They didn’t want to let me in. [laughs] The first day, they just asked my name, and they checked the list. So, the second day, when we were going to tape, I didn’t bring my I.D. This time, there was a different guard. He wouldn’t let me in! I had to rush back to the hotel to get my I.D. The security was much stiffer than when I first played the White House. Miroslav and I went towards the men’s room, and a female guard reached for her gun!”
This master drummer is also a man with stylish flair. In his driveway sits a favorite toy: a Bricklin sportscar. Sleek and DeLorean-like with gull-wing doors, the auto is a collector’s item. (“It’s the sixth one made and worth a lot of money by now.”) Roy is content to roam his house in casual wear, but when he’s heading out for a gig, his clothes match the Bricklin’s speed, with a fine taste that once earned him a slot on Esquire’s, Best Dressed List. Jazz patrons pay a lot of money for a night of music these days, and seeing Roy at the Blue Note, backing the band in a striking burgundy suit, made the evening feel just a little more festive. Having always been a clotheshorse, Roy is pleased by the trend for young players, exemplified by leaders such as Wynton Marsalis, to put on the ritz when they perform.
“People are into visuals. They’re looking at the person out front as well as listen- ing today. Years ago, a lot of bands would wear tuxedos. They always looked good. In the ’60s, when they started wearing jeans, that mainly came from the rock players. And then it caught on with youngsters who were playing any kind of music. I like to feel relaxed when I’m playing, but when I started playing, I had to wear a tie.
“I like the idea of the youngsters getting clean today, because it reminds me of the older days. Even when Coltrane started, everyone had at least a jacket on. I like that presentation—not necessarily a tie, but something to look good in, rather than just some funky old jeans. I like to see everyone look good as well as sound good.”
As a leader in those two categories, Roy’s recognition is well deserved. But he finds that the recognition game takes funny twists in the music world. “I was playing a club called The Tin Palace one week when The Rolling Stones were playing Madison Square Garden. Charlie Watts came down to listen to me at the club one night. Before this, the waitresses had thought, ‘Roy Haynes—commeci, comme ca.’ But when Charlie came down to see me, they were all excited. As soon as I walked in, they were saying, ‘The drummer from The Rolling Stones is here!’ I thought, ‘Big deal, I don’t even know who the hell he is.’ They pointed him out to me—dressed in a white suit. Anyway, he stayed all night. He knew me from a long time ago, but I didn’t really know him. So, the next night, he sent a limousine with four tickets for me. Suddenly, I became a big hero, [laughs] It’s a bitch that things like that have to happen. Today, there’s more of that. You don’t have to be really a good player. You just have to be hooked up to that right thing or the in thing for the period. There are a lot of good young players, though. I don’t even know some of their names.
“In fact, when I was watching Mick Jagger perform, for the first 15 minutes, I was turned off. But after about 20 minutes, I got into what he was doing—his energy and the way he was doing what he was doing. It knocked me out. Then we became friends afterwards. One time when I was rehearsing with Trio Music, they were at the same studio rehearsing, and Charlie, Mick and I talked for a long time. Mick goes out to places like the Vanguard and listens to whoever is appearing.”
Although Roy enjoys listening to a wide variety of music, when it comes down to playing, he explains simply that rock “is not my cup of tea. I watched the Live Aid concerts, and some parts were good, whereas I found other parts amusing. I have nothing against rock, but for myself, I would get bored if I had to continuously play that same volume throughout one tune. Some of the rock drummers beat the sound in, rather than drawing the sound out of the drums.”
Although jazz musicians rarely receive as fair a share of media’ splash as rock musicians do, the impact of Roy and his peers on music is a long-term influence celebrated worldwide that has inspired musicians through four decades. Two years after Boston’s Roy Haynes Day, Roy was again honored at New York’s Loeb Auditorium with A Roy Haynes Tribute night sponsored as part of the Highlights In Jazz series. Musicians who have worked with Roy throughout the years came to perform in his honor. And many who hadn’t been hired for the concert sat in and contributed their musical .thanks to the influential drummer.
Last July, Roy participated in a concert tribute to his musical colleague, the late Bud Powell, at Manhattan’s Town Hall theater. Powell’s ahead-of-his-time boast turned out to be an understatement. What Bud should have said about himself and his fellow musicians is: “Other musicians will be picking up on what we’re playing ten years from now—and still learning from it 25 years after that!”
“I went to Rome to play a while ago,” Roy says, “and as soon as I got there, I saw huge signs for our show in the middle of the downtown area saying, ‘Charlie Parker Tribute.’ Now that made me feel good. That was very inspiring.”
Upcoming plans for Roy include freelance dates, Trio Music concerts, and a trip to Europe. He also plans to remobilize the latest edition of his own quartet, which features Ralph Moore on tenor, Ed Howard on bass, and Hideki Takao on piano. When he is not juggling projects, the energetic drummer enjoys driving into Manhattan to catch up on the latest music uptown and downtown, or relaxing at breezy Jones Beach, located a convenient ten minutes from his home. “It’s so colorful here. It reminds me of the Riviera,” he says squinting out at the tanned bathers strolling on an especially sunny day. “But you know, I also really dig the beach on cloudy days. That’s when you meet a lot of interesting people—people into the Arts and people with open minds.”
This time around, when Roy leads his own quartet, he plans to allow himself more break time than in the Hip Ensemble years. “Over the last couple of years, there have been less headaches, because I work less and I have been fortunate to have good players. When I had the Hip Ensemble, I had to be a psychiatrist, a father, a brother—I had to be there. But I want to enjoy the rest of my life. I like to do other things so that I can breathe a little bit, and then do gigs every now and then with my own group.
“Sometimes I get away from my drums for a while. But I am constantly playing all the time within—constantly. I’m thinking drums. I’m moving. My toes are wiggling time. I’m always into the rhythm of the drums.
“Sometimes, when I’m not playing drums, I’m often thinking of lyrics. I dig lyrics. Some people say I know lyrics because I had played with a singer for so long, but I had always been into lyrics before that. I find that Dexter Gordon is like that, too. When I saw him play— before he played a ballad, he would recite a chorus of the lyrics—recite it, not sing it. Lester Young was into lyrics, too. He would play records during the day in his hotel room and sing the lyrics.”
Perhaps it is the silent rhythms swinging through his body and the lyrics lilting through his head that keep Roy such a cool and confident person. For much of his career, he has met challenges with the same not-to-worry sense of adventure as the young man who hustled aboard Louis Armstrong’s bus and the newcomer to New York who strode headlong into gigs with the world’s best.
One telling incident of Roy’s venturesome spirit took place a few years ago at the Kool Jazz Festival in Atlanta. Panic was bubbling backstage as Ike & Tina Turner readied themselves to take the stage, and their drummer was still nowhere to be found. Although Ike and Tina’s music was far from Roy’s main bag, he stepped in cold and opened the show, driving the hardest of hard-driving soul/R&B reviews. Roy recalls the event with nonchalance. For him, it wasn’t a pressure-under-the-collar situation. He approached it like he had approached swinging behind the unpredictable Charlie Parker: listen and “just grasp.”
Driving back from the beach, Roy misses the first exit, and as a result, we are later trapped in a beach exodus traffic jam. It doesn’t seem to bother him, though, and he scans the radio, listening to samples of everything across the dial. Pulling off at the next exit, Roy swings a quick left onto a narrow street and finds himself suddenly wedged, flank to flank, between a parked vehicle and an oncoming car. With only two inches leeway between his car and Roy’s the other driver stopped dead, unsure of what to do. Roy leans out the window with a smile and announces to the astonished driver, “Everything’s beautiful!” as he cruises through without a wince.