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Roy Haynes

Roy Haynes Roy Haynes Morrice Blackwell
There are very few whose roots touch the origins of jazz and who can boast of playing during jazz’s golden years with such jazz legends such as Lester Young, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Charlie " Bud" Parker, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, Lennie Tristano and countless others.

Roy Haynes with more than 50 years of influence has reverberated through several generations of drummers. Haynes gave rise to innovation and created new drum and cymbal patterns making them central to his rhythmic approach.

I had the honor of interviewing Roy Haynes recently and certainly understand why he has been dubbed the " The Father of Modern drumming."

JazzReview: The CD " The Fountain of Youth" is explosive and celebratory. Did you select each of the songs for this CD?

Roy Haynes: Yes, I did

JazzReview: On this CD you also celebrated many of the jazz greats along with yourself. As a matter of fact, you opened up with John Coltrane’s Greensleeves.

Roy Haynes: Yes, Greensleeves is a traditional number and Coltrane, of course, recorded it. This is the first time I recorded it. I really like it.

JazzReview: Did you handpick each song for the CD?

Roy Haynes: A lot of the tunes I recorded previously with other musicians, like Green Chimney and Inner Trust. All of these songs are done now with the young band. That’s where the title "Fountain of Youth" came from - all the band members are in there 20s. But the title has a double meaning. As you can plainly see everybody is talking about it. The fountain of youth with the youthful young musician is one meaning, and the fountain of youth with the youthful energy of the leader is another meaning. People are always telling me how much younger I look. I’m going to be 79 next month.

JazzReview: I can’t believe it!

Roy Haynes: Yes that’s what everyone tells me. I can’t believe it myself (laughter) except when I wake up in the morning, I feel it.

JazzReview: I had the pleasure of meeting you over two years ago at the Jazz Journalist Association. You won the Jazz Drummer of the Year award. Even then, I couldn’t believe you were in your 70s. I said to myself, "He can’t be!"

Roy Haynes: Well, just keep that in mind. I can’t be and I won’t be (laughter).

JazzReview: It has been said that the group "catches on fire," obviously following your lead.

Roy Haynes: It’s a combination of everything. First, I’m not always a talker. I don’t always talk to them, but by my plan, we try to communicate. We speak a language in there. I was listening to one track on the CD where the piano player, Martin Be Jerano, and I started to do the same thing together. We were in sync so to speak. That’s great because we don’t usually discuss those things. He’ll probably listen to something I’ve played and may play it along with me or opposite me. I find it very interesting. He’s also a Pisces. Marcus is a Pisces also and I’m a Pisces. Maybe there’s a connection there. You know what I mean.

I met Marcus Strickland several years ago; he must have been a teenager then. Marcus was playing with Milt Jackson’s big band at the Blue Note in New York. I’m sitting at the bar before the band goes on, and this young guy comes up to me with a saxophone on his back and another on his arm. He comes right up to me and says, "Roy Haynes I want to play with you." There was something about him. I knew that he must be a Pisces. There was an aura about him. It’s not that I can analyze people. Marcus also told me about his twin brother that plays drums. I hired Marcus a year later and he recommended the other guys, John Sullivan and Martin Bejerano. We started playing together for the last three summers at the Chicago Jazz Showcase. They have what they call the Charlie Parker month held in August. The audiences love the group wherever we go.

JazzReview: What motivates and drives you as a leader? You have averaged more than 50 live performances a year over the past 3 years.

Roy Haynes: I try not to analyze it. I just go along with it and as I said in a newspaper article, ‘This music is my religion.’ It’s what I believe in and what I feel spiritually. There is a certain thing that’s there in the music, and when you get the right people who can understand what you’re trying to say musically, that’s how it comes out. With this young quartet who are on my major engagements, it comes out on the record. It’s love and respect. Everything is right there.

JazzReview: While listening to the CD, I felt as if I was right there in front of you.

Roy Haynes: You were right there (laughter). As the youngsters say, " I can feel the vibes." (laughter)

JazzReview: Were there inspirations for each song you selected?

Roy Haynes: I don’t know, there’s certain things I just do. I don’t analyze it. I just feel them and keep on truckin`. (laughter)

Jazzreview" Although you pay homage to some of the greats in jazz, there’s an energy and difference in each piece.

Roy Haynes: I would hope so. That’s one of the things I try to do, make it ours. We own it when we play it. I try to do it with all my heart and soul. I don’t really discuss it much with the players. It’s something that happens. There’s a certain spirit in there, and [in] each tune that we play. We’re going to play it our way. Like Monk, I played with Monk way back in the late 50s. He liked his tunes to be played a certain way. I can imagine if he could hear us play his tunes now, he probably would frown. But inside he would love it and enjoy it.

JazzReview: What would you say as far as events in your life or in your career that had the greatest impact on your musical career?

Roy Haynes: I’m sure there are many things I can’t always put my finger on. A lady told me once in Chicago after we had finish playing the same Charlie Parker festival that I mentioned earlier after the performance, there are people coming out and I’m standing in the entranceway (like a preacher standing after a sermon and shaking people hands). And this lady comes to me and says my music reminded her of the Four Seasons. This really got to me because I try to express that whole thing of life or the different seasons; summer, fall, spring and winter. When someone can figure that out or feel that my music reminds them of that, it indeed is a compliment. I like to express certain things that happen in my life, the joy of spring, the birds singing and young babies coming into the world. You know, the whole thing as well as the part I’m not happy with, the sad part. That’s what I feel when I play a drum solo or play a song with the group. And when an audience can feel that it’s great.

One of the things that happens to me a lot through my engagements all over the world is somebody may come up to me perhaps a female saying, "Wow! How interesting it is in a drummer playing like that." That really inspires me. Some people say, "I don’t usually like a drum solo, but I never heard a drummer play like that." That’s what I try to get across to people sometimes. They are not familiar with this kind of jazz improvised, or they want to hear some watered down or what they call smooth jazz. We do what we feel. Jazz is spiritual. You have to feel it. Years ago in many of the cities such as New York, Philly, Cleveland, etc., they had clubs that played jazz all of the time. All those clubs are gone now. Back in the old days, people would be standing outside the clubs waiting to get in.

JazzReview: What piece or pieces of music on "Fountain of Youth" made the most impact on you and why?

Roy Haynes: Tunes like Inner Trust and Questions and Answers. On the second night of recording, a major snowstorm blanketed the East Coast. When news of the storm came in that morning, the producers worried that the heavy weather would mean a small turnout. At the last moment, word was circulated inviting some lucky New York jazz fans to attend the show for free. I like the feeling of most of the tracks, but I can’t give you a reason why.

JazzReview: Do you believe in music as art as opposed to a product for merchandising?

Roy Haynes: It’s Art! As I said, it’s religion. That’s what I believe in. I’ve been playing over 50 years.

In 1945 I was 20 years old. And Luis Russell, he was from Panama and lived in New Orleans. He and Louis Armstrong were very close. As a matter of fact, Louis Armstrong use to use Luis Russell’s band and called it the Louis Armstrong Band. In other words, Luis Russell was fronting the band for Louis Armstrong way back in the 20s or 30s. They also both played with King Oliver and I didn’t learn that until one time I went to England to do an interview with a historian. Anyway, Luis Russell had never met me, but somebody from the same band name Charlie Holmes (who played saxophone and with whom I played with during the war in 1944 in New London Connecticut) had told Luis about me. During those days, Russell didn’t have a telephone. You didn’t need one. So he wrote a special delivery letter to the black union. The union knew where I was at Martha’s Vineyard that summer and sent the letter to Massachusetts. I was very excited this bandleader wanted me to join his band and told me how much he would pay me.

My first job with him was in Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. I stayed with the band for 2 years. They had hit records because they had a young singer name Lee Richardson. His first hit record was called The Very Thought of You. That was my very first experience playing with a big band. And as they say, the rest is history!

JazzReview: What have been the most inspiring words of wisdom that you’ve heard/read from another musician or someone else in your life?

Roy Haynes: I can’t say what the most inspiring words of wisdom were, but I can tell you [about] one my inspirational performances. I was in NY in the early 70s. I had a group called the Roy Haynes Ensemble. There was a church called St. Peters that’s still there, but it’s a new church now, a Lutheran church. Each Sunday, the pastor at the time use to have what was called a jazz series where jazz groups would come to the church and perform. So that Sunday, when I had my ensemble perform at the old church (St. Petersburg, on Madison Avenue in New York), it happened to be the anniversary of Billy Strayhorn’s death. I played a drum solo in ¾ time and we played what we called then the Negro National Anthem, which goes "lift every voice and sing". Duke Ellington and his doctor happened to be at the church because they had gone to the Hudson River to throw flowers into the river because Billy had his ashes thrown there. Now Duke Ellington knew me. A lot of the guys in the band were older than me, but knew of Roy Haynes. As we started to play the part of the anthem, Duke Ellington and his doctor, Dr. Logan, both stood up in the back of the church and the entire congregation stood up to that song. That was my biggest inspiration. My career as a bandleader you talk about wisdom, they didn’t have to say anything.

My two youngest children were at the performance, my son Graham who now plays the coronet and my daughter Leslie got Duke’s autograph. They were very young. That was a good memory, the idea of Duke Ellington catching my performance and giving me a standing ovation.

JazzReview: What advice would you give a newcomer entering into the music industry?

Roy Haynes: To really believe in the music that you’re playing. Don’t just play it for the money even though I know money is very important. Respect your older musicians. I usually don’t try to give advice unless I hear them play more than once. But it’s hard today. Advice may not be good advice 10 or 15 years from now. Someone could tell you something years ago and it might not work now. The world is constantly changing. One word could mean something different today. Today you can’t give advice to anyone. I’m looking for advice myself (laughter). My advice is to stay healthy, young and play music. Learn to love people for what they are.

JazzReview: What can we expect next from Roy Haynes?

Roy Haynes: I’m like OLE Man River - I just keep rolling along. I don’t try to play it too far in advance. I just do something positive everyday, learning something each day. I’m sure the next project will be very interesting.

JazzReview: I understand you get more offers to perform now then you did in the past.

Roy Haynes: I know I deserve it. But I read some years ago, in one of those in-flight magazines, that in business, you don’t get what you deserve you get what you negotiate. You have to know something about the business that you’re in. You must know something about business period.

I’m still growing I take each day, one day-at-a-time. I’m always thinking and dreaming. As long as this heart keeps beating, there will be new things coming along.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Roy Haynes
  • Interview Date: 3/1/2004
  • Subtitle: The Greatest Drummer of All Time
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