Fountain of youth
||Hear the drummer get wicked
At 81, the legendary Roy Haynes looks to the future of jazz
Roy Haynes has been a living legend for over 40 years – that title was bestowed upon him because of his work with Lester Young in the late 1940s, as a member of the Charlie Parker Quintet in the early 1950s, and for his work with Sarah Vaughan in the late 1960s. Like his contemporaries “Bird,” John Coltrane and Clifford Brown, Roy Haynes has helped shape jazz by pushing the boundaries of what was once referred to as “simple dance compositions” into a uniquely American art form. But what’s really set him apart from the aforementioned is that Haynes has lived long enough to accept such tributes, which are typically ascribed to individuals post-mortem.
Criminally, however, the accolades bestowed on Haynes have not been because of his contributions to jazz and drumming, but rather because of the people he’s recorded with: Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane. His resumé reads like the history of jazz itself.
By 35, Haynes had solidified his place in jazz royalty. In 1962, Haynes, as bandleader, cut his first classic recording, Out of the Afternoon. This celebrated recording featured his newly formed quartet: Henry Grimes on bass, Tommy Flanagan on piano and Roland Kirk on saxophones, flutes and a number of other instruments. These three musicians would become some of the most eccentric, inspired forces in 1960s jazz.
Cut to the new millennium. It’s Jazz Fest time again. Haynes is 81 years old and will headline the festival as part of a searing live quartet called The Fountain Of Youth. The group features Martin Bejerano on piano, David Wong on bass and Jaleel Shaw on saxophone – a trio of beaming, flourishing musicians not unlike those the drummer worked with over 40 years ago.
In May, Bejerano released Evolution/Revolution, his first album as a bandleader; his rhythmic bop-inspired playing has drawn comparisons to Bud Powell. Jaleel Shaw is a robust and smooth saxophonist, something in the vein of Ken Vandermark or Roland Kirk. Like Bejerano, he released his debut album, Perspective, not long ago. David Wong, the youngest of the quartet, is a true virtuoso, cutting his teeth as bassist on the touring circuit with Haynes.
Recently, I discussed with Haynes his appearance at this year’s Ottawa International Jazz Festival, but rather than talking about himself, the drummer redirected the attention away from him and onto his band. So I foolishly asked him how he initially discovered this fresh trio, and once again Haynes deflects the spotlight. “At my age I don’t find musicians, they find me,” he continues, “It’s like asking, How did Charlie Parker find me? How did Lester Young find me? If you’re a good musician, word gets around.” Asked whether the prospect of playing with new players is exciting (considering his age, and the number of musicians he’s worked with over the years), his answer is sharp and poignant: “I wouldn’t be playing with them if they didn’t impress me.”
It’s an answer that one expects, even from a man his age. Haynes’ live performances are much more than a dry run-through of popular jazz standards. “Jazz is all about improvisation. When I was a session player, I would learn to play one style one night and another the next. Not to mention that great jazz musicians are constantly changing their own sound,” he says, explaining why jazz musicians can constantly improvise on stage and why they rotate band members so frequently. Unlike rock or blues musicians who are restricted to an explicit sound or style that defines them, jazz players constantly rely on each other’s personalities to perform. “You are playing with people… personalities, not instruments,” adds Haynes. “I am always learning from other musicians because of this. Thelonious Monk was always challenging me as a drummer – he was so unpredictable.”
When I ask him why jazz drummers make great bandleaders, he seems dumbfounded by the question, almost as if it was common knowledge that “the drummer can make or break a band.”
“Charles Mingus once told me that the drummer is any band’s true leader,” Haynes says.
The same basics that made Haynes such a trailblazing and innovative session drummer in the 1940s and 1950s – his ability to adapt, his buoyancy and his undeniable talent – have also allowed him to become a great leader. “Rock drummers confuse proficiency with loudness and being good with being loud,” Haynes quips. “Any member of a band can covey emotion through their music, and if you have a good enough band, you can have all of the musicians conveying emotion together – the drummer, the keyboard player, everyone.”
Haynes steers the focus of the interview away from himself once again. He wants to speak about his family, specifically his children’s musical achievements, talking about them with grandfatherly passion. “They are all talented musicians,” he says, telling me about his son Graham, who plays the cornet, clarinet and flugelhorn, and has produced hip-hop infused drum ‘n’ bass records since the ’90s. As you would also expect, his grandson Marcus Gilmore and nephew Christopher Haynes both are up-and-coming drummers.
After the interview, I ponder Roy’s enthusiasm about his friends and family and it occurs to me that he comes from a different era of music, an era where jazz was unmarked and ready to shape, looking to the future because there was no past. At his age, Haynes doesn’t rely on his past achievements, rather he looks to the future with his bandmates and family and as a result has become the embodiment of what makes jazz such a viable art form. Haynes will continue to record and tour until he is physically unable, challenging himself and his music until there is only legend.
Friday, June 29, 8 p.m., $30
Library and Archives of Canada