Louis Hayes

When one thinks of the great jazz cities, the first names that come to mind are New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City, and New York. The name Detroit tends to conjure up images of Cadillacs, Motown singing groups, Lions and Tigers (and Redwings, oh my), before it brings jazz to mind. Yet in the 1940s and ’50s Detroit was the breeding ground for an extraordinary number of young jazz musicians. Pepper Adams, Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, Hank, Elvin and Thad Jones, Betty Carter, Barry Harris, Curtis Fuller, Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell, Lucky Thompson, Yusef Lateef, Sheila Jordan, Oliver Jackson, Roland Hanna, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Billy Mitchell, Julius Watkins, and Louis Hayes are just a few of the many bebop-inspired musicians who motored out of Detroit to careers of international importance.

“You know the musicians were really on a high level around Detroit at that time,” says Louis Hayes with a typical understatement. “They were on such a high level that, when musicians came from New York to Detroit for gigs, after they had finished their jobs they were asked to come to this place where the local players were waiting for them. During that time it was very competitive, and cutting people and all that was really in style. I mean, your life was on the line.

“I was a little younger than most of the musicians at that time, and I was afraid to play around them—people like Paul Chambers, Yusef Lateef, and Barry Harris. I used to come and sit and listen to them, but they didn’t even know I played drums. I would never even attempt to play drums around them. But around my compadres, I was a star.”

The home in which Louis Hayes grew up had no less a heady musical atmosphere than the city itself. “My father, whose name is also Louis Hayes, played piano and drums professionally when he was a youngster, but he stopped when the depression set in. So the piano and drums were in the house when I was growing up. And I was listening to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum and all of them when I was a little kid. I heard it whether I liked it or not; when I wanted to listen to special programs on the radio—Inner Sanctum and that kind of stuff—I had to cut it off because my father wanted to hear something else. So he started me out playing; I started playing piano when I was five and I started playing drums when I was ten. My father taught me as much as he could and then I started taking lessons from my cousin. His name was Clarence Stamp and he was an excellent drummer. I learned a lot from him. I think it’s a thing where if you have it already inside of you to a point, and if you work on it—and you really have to work on it—then it comes naturally. So I really worked on it with Clarence and I learned a lot from him; I learned the basics when I was very young—how to read, brushwork, everything—so by the time I got to be 14 or 15 I could really play pretty well.”

Under the guiding wing of bassist Ernie ‘Farrow, nine years Louis’ senior (Hayes was born in 1937), Louis Hayes began haunting—strictly as a listener—the jazz clubs and record stores of Detroit. “Ernie got me listening to Kenny Clarke during this time. I had a lot of respect for Ernie Farrow so I listened to Kenny Clarke really well. I mean, I listened my buns off; I was paying attention. And that’s how I developed my cymbal beat, listening to Kenny Clarke so much. On my own I heard Max Roach on records and I really liked his mind. He has a very intelligent mind on the drums. I really tuned into Max for solos. Those two people were my basic influences.”

Young Louis spent some time at the Wurlitzer School of Music in Detroit but, as he put it, “I started moving so fast that in 1955 I started traveling. I went to Florida with a guy named Sax Carey and I had my own groups in a couple of teenage clubs: the club Sedan and the Club Tropicano. We were playing bebop—the only thing I had ever played in my life. People started calling me up and my mother had to take me to the jobs, you know. I remember one time somebody called me up and I went to the job. These guys had a washboard, and a tub with a stick and a string for the bass. I couldn’t believe it but, being about 16 or 17 years old, I dealt with it. I even ended up stranded with a group in Birmingham, Alabama. We were touring and it got messed up. I worked a lot as a youngster.”

Beyond the “teenage clubs,” one had to be 21 to work in Detroit nightclubs. This did not stop young Louis Hayes, who began working with an organist in a club where his age never came into question. As a matter of fact, he says, “The club owner and I had a relationship going on; he really liked me. Yusef Lateef wanted a job there. The club owner told Yusef he could have the job, but he had to take me with it. So Yusef came over to my house—he didn’t know me at all, naturally, because he was much older—and he said, ‘Okay, you’ve got the job, but you’re on a six-week trial.’ That was great with me. Ernie Farrow was playing bass, Curtis Fuller was playing trombone, Hugh Lawson was playing piano, I was playing drums, and Yusef was playing saxophones and other things. We had the group in Detroit; we had the spot. I stayed there for at least six months before they found out that I was a little youngster. This was at the end of 1955, when I was 18. When he found out how old I was, the club owner said he had to let me go because his stuff was in jeopardy, but I got great experience working with that group.”

Louis bounced around for the next few months until a jam session in an afterhours club resulted in the phone call that would bring him east. Many of the top Detroit players had left in the middle ’50s for the greener pastures of New York. Two of them, Kenny Burrell and Doug Watkins, came back to Detroit after a year and found themselves playing with Louis Hayes.

“We had so much fun playing together,” recalled Louis, “that when they got back to New York they told Horace Silver, who had just left Art Blakey and was starting his first group, ‘You’ve got to get that baby boy out of Detroit.’ When Horace called, I was so surprised that I couldn’t believe it was really him. He sent for me and I came here to New York in August of ’56.”

The Horace Silver Quintet—Silver, piano; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; and three Detroiters: Donald Byrd, trumpet; Doug Watkins, bass; and Louis Hayes—debuted on Six Pieces Of Silver (Blue Note 1539) and quickly established itself as one of the seminal bands of the “hard bop” movement (which later became known as “soul jazz,” among other things). In the three years Louis Hayes hung in with Silver, Art Farmer, Clifford Jordan, Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook passed through the group.

The second half of the 1950s was something of a golden age in the recorded history of jazz. Labels like Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, and Savoy were recording records by the score: usually small bands and pickup groups that were assembled in the studio. The records were made on a shoestring budget, the rehearsal time was negligible, the entire project was wrapped up in an afternoon, and the players got paid in cash. Like the old studio system in Hollywood, the records were churned out, but frequently there were classics among the flotsam and jetsam. The Silver Quintet was hot, Louis Hayes’ free-ranging, though tightly controlled, trapwork was gaining attention, and, as he put it, “During that time making records was the easiest thing you could do around New York. I made so many records with different people during that time that I can’t even recall all of them.”

There were sessions with John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Clifford Jordan, Kenny Dorham and many others during those years. Louis Hayes literally came of age in the recording studios of New York (and Rudy Van Gelder’s nearby New Jersey haven). Around this time there were a lot of comparisons made between Hayes’ drumming and that of Philly Joe Jones, which is something Louis acknowledges.

”I got to know Philly Joe after I came to New York. I was young and Philly Joe liked me. We were hanging out all the time together. We were buddies, really hanging out. So I was around him all the time. And he did influence me to a point during that time. I never studied with him. I never took any drum lessons from him or anything like that, but I was around him so much that I absorbed some of Joe.”

It took another jam session to get Louis Hayes to change gigs. “It was a Monday night at Birdland in 1959,” he recalls. “I was working with Hank Mobley, Booker Little, Bobby Timmons and Sam Jones. We had a great time, and after the job Sam told me, ‘Cannonball Adderley is starting a group. I sure would like you to come on, since we play so well together.’ Now, I really liked Horace and our relationship was right in there; it was a great relationship. I loved the music and we were working enough, but I was young and I was ready to try a different thing.”

Musically, the Cannonball Adderley band was far from a different thing. Adderley, having just left the classic Miles Davis Sextet, put together a unit that fell right into the Horace Silver/Art Blakey school of hard bop: Cannonball on alto, little brother Nat Adderley on cornet, Bobby Timmons on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums. The group debuted at the end of 1959 and was an immediate success in the days between the original rock ‘n’ rollers and the British Invasion. Jazz was very much in; work and media attention were plentiful; records were made by the batchful. Cannonball Adderley became something of a star.

“Cannonball was a very smart human being,” recalls Hayes. “He was very relaxed, very intelligent, and he had everybody contribute to the music. He picked out his personnel, and he knew how to get people who would make his stuff work right. The band became very hot. We were working all the time all over the world. Cannonball was a hit; the band was a hit. See, Cannon could speak well, too. He liked to talk, and people liked that. Plus he got us involved in a lot of different projects—things with Wes Montgomery and Nancy Wilson. That was the band.”

One of the advantages Louis had, in both the Silver and Adderley groups, was that he was there from the outset. He was the guy who set the drum sound for two of the most popular leaders of the time. “I had total freedom with those groups,” he says. “During all my years with Horace and Cannon, there was never anything like reading music for me. It was, ‘Louis, this is the way it goes. Now you put it together because you can put it together better than I can. Play what you want to play.’ They just gave me the format and I did the rest.”

Louis Hayes spent six years with Cannonball Adderley. The records the band made hold up amazingly well today. The group cooked, pure and simple. Nat Adderley, Sam Jones and Louis were there throughout; the piano bench changed from Timmons to Barry Harris and, finally, to Joe Zawinul, who remained for nearly a decade. The band was eventually augmented by Yusef Lateef and, later, Charles Lloyd. The band was tight, but the feeling was loose and flowing.

During those years there was still time for the odd record date with Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Drew, Phineas Newborn, and others, including Louis’ first date as a leader. “I was working at the Apollo with Cannonball,” he says. “Sid McCoy, who was the biggest jazz disc jockey in Chicago at that time really liked me and wanted to produce a record with me as a leader. One night during this week at the Apollo, after playing from about 12:00 in the afternoon to 12:00 at night, we went into the studio for Vee Jay Records: me, Barry Harris, Nat Adderley, Sam Jones, and Yusef Lateef. That was in 1962 or ’63.”

Louis Hayes left Cannonball Adderley in 1965 when, he says, “The music started changing. It started getting into more of ‘today’s music’—sort of going with the system. I was still young and I didn’t want to go along with the system to a point, you know. I wanted to make a switch.”

This should be the place in the narrative where we introduce the Louis Hayes Quintet. After all, at the age of 28 with a sturdy reputation behind him, and after nine years on the hard-bop trail with two fairly steady bands, it would seem only natural that Louis Hayes would here amalgamate his experience and knowledge into a band of his own. It wasn’t to be. “People were trying to get me to get my own group after I left Cannonball,” he says. “People were saying, ‘Louis, get your own band. Right now, you don’t need to play with nobody.’ I had a reputation after doing all that stuff. But I really didn’t want to have my own band during that particular time. I was ready musically, but my head just wasn’t there. In a way, I wish I had started a band then, because I’d be just a little further ahead. I ended up doing it eventually anyway.”

What he did do was make a right turn from the hard-nosed bop sounds which he had been playing all his life and accept an offer to replace Ed Thigpen in the Oscar Peterson Trio. Oscar Peterson? “That was a different twist altogether,” says Louis with a smile. “I fit in, but there were definitely some adjustments to make. With both of the other bands, I was the original per son, so I was used to being totally free. Ed Thigpen was there for six years before I joined, so Oscar had a format. See, Oscar plays so much on the piano; he’s fantastic, but he never lightens up. And we had these arrangements that were very involved. As a drummer, the adjustments I had to make weren’t physical as much as using my mind, remembering arrangements and using a lot more finesse. I got a chance to use a lot of brushwork, too.”

Louis worked with Oscar Peterson on and off for about five years, until, as he puts it, “It was just time to make a move. Oscar does exactly what he wants to do. With Oscar you have to accompany him and that, for a free spirit like I am, is very difficult to do. So we both got to the point where we had to make a change—a change that was for the best.”

One thing that can be said about Louis Hayes’ choice of jobs up to this point is that he never found time to scuffle. During the lean years of the ’60s—dog days for many jazz musicians—Louis Hayes put in time with two of the steadiest ships on the jazz sea: Cannonball Adderley and Oscar Peterson. When musicians were scuffling for gigs, taking demeaning day jobs or re locating to Europe, Louis Hayes was working. It may have cost him slightly in terms of recognition as Louis Hayes, but it paid the bills.

Over the years, during vacations and times when Horace, Cannonball or Oscar were off the road, Hayes continued to involve himself with a steady stream of freelance record dates. He also stated that he had a regular working relationship with Freddie Hubbard, at one time a neighbor of his in Brooklyn. “Freddie and I have been close since “58,” he says, “very, very close. So we were playing together on and off the whole time. When I left Oscar, Freddie and I got together, because that was just a natural thing to do. See, I was with Oscar off and on. I would leave and Bobby Durham would come in, and then he would leave and I would come back. During one of those breaks in the ’60s, Freddie and I started a group called The Communicators, which consisted of Joe Henderson, Kenny Barron, Herbie Lewis, Freddie and myself. Now I’m talking about a very hot band. We never recorded, but we were hot.

“Eventually things changed. Jimmy Spaulding was in the group. Albert Dailey and later Cedar Walton were also in the group. We worked around New York and California. Things weren’t great, but we always managed to survive. Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and I used to do trio things. That was when I started becoming aware of the New York local scene: clubs like Boomer’s and Slugg’s. We all had fun—going to Europe a lot, things like that. One time I even got stranded in L.A. with Freddie. I actually had to call up my mother’s house and say, ‘Mom, would you send me money to get out of L.A.?’ Sometime in there, around 1971, I went back with Oscar for a year. Then, when it was over with Oscar for the last time, I decided it was time to start having my own band.”

Finally, in 1972, at the age of 35 and already a 17-year veteran of the jazz business, Louis Hayes decided it was time to put his name front and center. The first Louis Hayes band featured Gerald Hayes (Louis’ younger brother by about four years) and Charles Davis on reeds, David Williams on bass, and Ronnie Matthews on piano. “We did that for a time,” says Louis “but it wasn’t moving fast enough for me.”

After a couple of years of kicking around, Wim Wigt, the Dutch jazz impresario and record producer, called Hayes and asked him to form a group for a European tour. “It was sort of a little limbo period of time when I was trying to figure out what my next move was going to be. I didn’t have a band, but when Wim asked me to come over I said okay. I got Junior Cook, Ronnie Matthews, Stafford James and, a little later, Woody Shaw.”

That band, the Louis Hayes-Junior Cook Quintet, was the unit that finally began to establish Hayes as a leader, or should I say co-leader. Firmly grounded in the Horace Silver mode (Cook was also an ex-Silver alum), the band gained a little bit of attention at the time when acoustic jazz was at the beginning of its upswing. Attention was also being paid to trumpeter Woody Shaw. There were a number of tours of America and Europe, and a couple of recordings (notably Ichi-Ban for Wim Wigt’s Timeless label). In 1976, things began to get all shook up.

“I got Maxine Gregg to be our manager,” says Hayes, “and she ended up being with Woody” (they later married). “Pretty soon it was pushed up from being the Louis Hayes-Junior Cook Quintet to being the Louis Hayes-Woody Shaw Quintet. See, Junior left then because his personality and our personalities started having a little problem. Junior felt that he was uncomfortable and wanted to do something else, so we changed it up.

“We got Rene McLean on saxophone and had that group together for a while, with Maxine handling it. One time when we were over in Europe, Dexter Gordon ended up playing with us in several places. We were telling Dexter and Slide Hampton to come back to America. Maxine got involved with Dexter through us. Dexter and Slide Hampton came back and were guests with our group at Storytowne. Dexter didn’t have a band. Bruce Lundvall, from CBS, made an appearance at Storytowne and said he wanted to sign Dex over there at CBS. So that’s how Dex got shot out there with Maxine handling him. That put Maxine in a situation where she could be on the inside to really do big things, because Dex was the big thing.”

Dexter Gordon, with the Louis Hayes- Woody Shaw Quartet (Rene McLean was left out), went into the Village Vanguard in New York and things really started to happen. Dexter Gordon had been living in Europe for a number of years, and although he had been back to the States once or twice in the ’70s without too much hoopla, his appearance at the Vanguard caused pandemonium in a jazz sense (much different, mind you, from pandemonium in a rock ‘n’ roll sense). The media lined up for interviews, the fans lined up for a glimpse of the returning bebop saxophone master, and CBS deposited a recording truck outside the door of Max Gordon’s little basement. Maxine Gregg and her Ms. Management Company were responsible for much of the fanfare accompanying the saxophonist’s return. Dexter fit like a glove into an already together, smoking unit that didn’t have the loose edges of a typical pickup band. Everything clicked.

“Exactly, exactly,” says Louis. “We had an organized situation. We knew what we were doing. Whatever Dexter wanted to do just fit in. It was still my group and Woody’s group at the Vanguard, but it was Dexter’s stuff because he was the one recording. You know what I mean: He was the one with CBS.”

Dexter’s first CBS release, Homecoming, was recorded at the Vanguard during that engagement. It was a double album with ample solo space for everybody in the group. “Since Dexter was already in with CBS,” continued Louis, “Maxine could get Woody in over there eventually. See, at first it was like: Dexter’s going to have his band, Woody’s going to have his band, Slide Hampton’s going to have his band, and Louis Hayes is going to have his band. That was the original setup. And Maxine was going to handle all of this. Do you know what I mean? But actually, Woody and Dexter were out there and me and Slide didn’t do anything with Maxine. We didn’t fall out as far as having any bad feelings. She just wanted to handle Dexter and Woody, and then they talked Johnny Griffin into coming back over from Europe.”

Dexter Gordon and Woody Shaw signed with CBS. Slide Hampton went his separate way. Louis Hayes called up Frank Strozier, Harold Mabern, and Stafford James, and formed a new band. Johnny Griffin bought a plane ticket. “Then Maxine wanted me to leave my group and go with Johnny Griffin, saying it was the Johnny Griffin group ‘featuring Louis Hayes.’ I didn’t feel like joining Johnny Griffin’s group at the time, even ‘featuring Louis Hayes.’ And I had already made a commitment to Frank Strozier, Harold Mabern and Stafford James. I kept my group and, since it didn’t work out with Maxine, I started doing other things. I was going back and forth to Europe, and I made a very great record, Variety Is The Spice (Gryphon G-787). That went on for a little while, but it didn’t take off to the highest level. Now I’ve got a group with Bobby Watson, Clint Houston, and James Williams. We went to Europe together and had a great time, but we haven’t recorded yet.”

One thing that comes across loud and clear is Louis Hayes’ good humor and incredible optimism. He has a “go-with-the-flow” quality about him that is infectious, yet perhaps that is why he still isn’t firmly recognized as a leader. On the afternoon we spoke, he was just back from a tour of Europe backing the three-tenor team of Joe Henderson, Joe Farrell and Bob Berg. Before that, he had been in Europe subbing for Philly Joe Jones with the Timeless All-Stars. He had recently finished a gig, and live recording, with Pepper Adams and Kenny Wheeler at Fat Tuesday’s. In short, he is a drummer for hire. He would clearly like to work more as a leader, but he does make himself available to whatever gigs are in the wind. He spends a lot of time in Europe and is forming a group for a European tour that will feature Jimmy Owens, Kloss and Frank Strozier in the front line, with James Williams and Clint Houston joining him in the rhythm section. I asked him what his ideal playing situation would be—what his career would be like if he could draw up the lines.

“My ultimate situation is to have my group of people travel around the world the way I want to do it. See, when I make a record, for instance, I don’t like to just get some musicians together and say, ‘Hey, let’s make a record.’ I don’t do that. When I make a record, I have everything planned, I know exactly what I’m going to do, and there are no mistakes. I came up with groups like Cannonball, Oscar Peterson, and Horace Silver, I learned well, and I know how to put things together. Somebody like Bobby Watson writes his buns off. Before we went to Europe, we rehearsed and put some 20 tunes together, all arranged. We rehearsed a-plenty; we weren’t just playing around. We sat down, put it together and rehearsed. That’s what I like. I’d like a real long-term situation now. I don’t want ‘today it’s this, tomorrow it’s something else,’ and all that stuff.

“These people today like Bobby Watson and James Williams are writing some slick music. I came up in the ’50s and all that, and I love things like playing with Pepper Adams, that’s for sure, but I don’t really want to play like that all the time. I love it. I came up playing like that, but I already did that. So I’m interested in some different kinds of sounds and a different approach to the whole situation. You know that steel drum player, Othello, who used to play with Monty Alexander? I’d love to do something with him, too.”

I asked Louis about other drummers and about his drums in particular. About his own equipment he said, “I have a couple of sets now of Premier drums, and I enjoy playing them. They’re good drums. The heads are Remos. I take a new set of drums, I take the front head off and put a Remo head on the front, because that’s important to me. I don’t use anything to dampen the drums at all. The drums are wide open. I just control the sound myself. So the snare drum and bass drum are the two most important drums for me. I leave the regular heads on the tom-toms, but I can tune them the way I want to.

“As for the cymbals—and I’m known for a certain sound with the cymbals—I’ve always dealt with Zildjian cymbals. I just look at the cymbals. I can tell from the grain what I think they are going to sound like. Then I take them to a job, and decide whether I like them or not.”

Louis Hayes

As for his fellow drummers, he cites Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, and Philly Joe Jones, and then surprisingly, he talks about a couple of big band drummers. “Buddy Rich is, to me, a gem,” he says. “A gem! And Louie Bellson is a gem. He even gave me a drum seat when I was a little kid. And Gene Krupa once gave me a little splash cymbal. I really admire those people. And Jo Jones is my mentor. Over the years, his door has always been open. When I have problems, I say, ‘What about this Jo?’ And he don’t mind telling you.

“Of course, Elvin I’ve known since Detroit. When I was a little kid Elvin was playing the same way he’s playing now. He looked the same and played the same. People weren’t aware of it until he got with ‘Trane, but Elvin was always one of the masters. I have to mention Tony Williams, too. He’s really very, very important.

“You know, it takes a lot of time to be a drummer. You’ve got to practice five to seven hours a day. I love all these drummers. The drums are very hard to play. Without the drums and without the drummer you don’t have a band. If you don’t have a drummer, forget it! I love all those people who can actually spend so much time creating and who can play this instrument so well.

“As for me, I’m just happy to be healthy, living, strong and still together, so that I can keep on creating and be able to make an impression on this whole world scene, because I’m going to keep doing it.” I’m sure of it. Louis Hayes will be there, rolling with the punches, making his living the only way he has ever made his living—playing his buns off (as he would put it) every step of the way. To some, the Detroit sound may refer to Martha Reeves and Diana Ross, or the sound of a purring engine from a Cadillac. But to jazz fans it means swinging acoustic sounds of the type purveyed by Louis Hayes and company.