Praise for A Drummer: An Interview with Roy Haynes

By Brian Knight

Drummer Roy Haynes is a living jazz family tree. For every musician that has passed through the annals of jazz history in the last fifty years, there has been a connection to Roy Haynes. Looking at the players who have gigged with Haynes is like reading a jazz encyclopedia: Sarah Vaughn, Art Pepper, Dizzy Gillepsie, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Pat Metheny, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Stan Getz, and Chick Corea. The list is literally endless. Haynes first break came when he played with Charlie Parker in the 1940s and he has been going strong ever since. Correlating with all of these musicians and years of playing is also a diversity of playing styles: bebop, bop, Latin, free jazz and fusion.

With this amazing background, it would be easy to have a nostalgic approach to an interview. Not with Roy Haynes. At age 72, Haynes is going on stronger than ever. He has just released his new album, Praise, which features an impressive lineup of saxophonist David Sanchez, pianist David Kikoski, percussionist Daniel Moreno, bassist Dwayne Burno, saxophonist Kenny Garrett and Haynes’ own son, Graham on flugelhorn. In addition, to the new album, Haynes is also taken his act on the road once again and playing with the same energy that he had when he played with Charlie Parker in the 1940s-1950s. Before Haynes arrival at Scullers Jazz Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Vermont Review talked to Haynes about his new album, snippets from the past and clothing styles of the 1950s.

Vermont Review: You were born in Roxbury, Massachusetts and you have spent quite living on the East Coast. What has kept you on the East Coast all these years?

Roy Haynes: The Excitement. But I am international because I am in Europe, I am In Japan, I am all over the world. It doesn’t really matter where you live because I going to other places and getting a feeling for those places. It just happens that I live here.

VR: Why did you name your latest album Praise?

RH: (It relates to) the song that we play with just the trio called Morning Has Broken. One morning I was in my garage doing something and the song came on. As soon as the song finished playing, the DJ said "Praise". I thought that was the title of it. Because (the word) praise is in the lyrics- " and the morning praised on the da...da...da...." I liked it and I decided when I made my new CD, I would call it Praise and do that composition.

VR: Was that Cat Steven’s version of the tune?

RH: Yes

VR: Have you heard other versions of the Morning Has Broken?

RH: It is an old religious hymn. I heard it as a kid. I heard it on the radio and I think I heard my other sing it or hum it.

VR: Praise also features McCoy Tyner’s Blues on the Corner and you also played on his second album, Reaching Fourth. Any comments on this piano great?

RH: He is very percussive player. He is great player. I like his writing as well.

VR: You also play Charlie Parker’s My Little Suede Shoes on Praise. Is that a tribute to you former bandleader?

RH: Not really. I think that was more or less Kenny Garrett’s idea. He started fooling around and we decided to play it. Maybe that is what he wanted to play. In the 1950s, I recorded it with Charlie Parker. We had a Latin rhythm section - bongos, congas, and drums. It was on the South of the Border album.

VR: Is your version different?

RH: Oh yes, it is much different. It is straight-ahead 4/4. It is not Latin.

VR: The final song on the album is your own composition, Shades of Senegal. Why that name?

RH: I had a group during the 1970s called the Hip Ensemble and during that period I went to Senegal. I was there for a couple of weeks. I had the opportunity to meet and play with one of the greatest drummers there. His name was Du Du Dierose. He came over to where I was playing. I was playing a week one place and two weeks somewhere else. During the two weeks I was there, I was going to play two concerts. One concert was free for the people that lived there and another concert was for people who pay. Du Du and I were to play together at one point. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak his language. So we didn’t discuss anything. I was to play with his group and I did not realize that. And at one point, we got so involved musically. His group was all drummers and my group was guitar, saxophone, bass and drums. It turned out to be a great success. Someone said, when I was there, that I wanted to run for political office, I would I have won because the people fell in love with what I was doing. So I dedicated that drum feature to Senegal - Shades of Senegal.

VR: What was your role in the documentary Art Blakely: Jazz Messenger?

RH: My think my name was mentioned but I was never actually in it. I was in a movie with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston - The Preacher’s Wife. I got good credits and I got the money, but the part I did was cut out. It was a little feature intro to a song. You see me in the background just a bit.

VR: Would like try acting again?

RH: It was a great few days. Whitney was calling me Mr. Haynes, which made me feel older. I knew her mother.

VR: What is like playing with your son Graham Haynes?

RH: That was a great thrill. I did another record, which was never released, with a Japanese label that my son was on. Every now and then we play together. He has been signed with Polygram in Europe and Verve over here. He has been doing some Indian-African mixture. He is a very independent individual.

VR: Along with your son, you have been playing with a lot of young people. What is that experience like?

VR: It is not a new experience for me at all. In fact, I don’t think in terms of age. Seems like all the writers think in terms of age. When we get on stage, we are all the same age except that I have been playing longer and I am older than them. It’s great. I just like to play with great people. It doesn’t matter. It just happens to work this way. It is not a big plan. I like to get guys who can blend together and their chemistry works.

VR: You have been involved with many different styles of jazz. Do you prefer any style over the other?

VR: I prefer Roy Haynes style. It seems to fit a lot of other styles. Evidently it works. The different people that I have performed with from Louis Armstrong to Pat Metheny and Chick Corea a lot of people in between - that in itself should tell a story. You should just come and listen to what I am trying to do. Listen to records, but it is always great to catch the artist in person. See what they are about and feel them out.

VR: Then seeing a person live is the true embodiment of a musician?

RH: To most people, it should be that way but not everybody may agree with that. In person, in flesh is really the thing I would think. Sometimes the truth is going to come out. In the studio, there are dubs and mixes. You know, you can fake more. In person, you get up on stage and deal with it. As the song goes: "There ain’t nothing like the real thing baby!"

VR: When you sat in with John Coltrane, Elvin Jones was considered his primary drummer. How was it sitting in with Coltrane? Did it happen naturally? Was it a comfortable situation?

RH: It was natural since Coltrane wanted me. I sat in with Coltrane many times including in the studio. These things have become very important like the live session at Newport in 1963. We played all over the world and people just loved it. They felt it was much different than the original quartet. It was enjoyable.

VR: I was reading in the liner notes of McCoy Tyner’s Reaching Forth and it said that you were voted Best Dressed Man by Esquire Magazine in 1961.

RH: It was an article written in Esquire Magazine in ....I think 1960, not 1961. The article was called the "Art of Wearing Clothes" and it named about forty American men who were supposedly good dressers. And I was one.

VR: What were you wearing in 1960?

RH: The article was actually written in the 1950s and it wasn’t used until 1960. We were all in Boston and I was staying there for awhile during 1951. I think I stayed there for the entire winter of 1951. There was a shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts called the Andover Shop. I was having my clothes custom made there and the writer was going to the same tailor. It was very exclusive in those days - we were wearing ties and suits. I was always into clothes ever since I was very young. I used to come to New York, buy ties and shirts and go back to Boston to show them off.

VR: Do you still wear a similar outfit on stage today?

RH: I do not wear ties on stage anymore these days. Periodically. Usually, I am a little more casual. These are much more casual days then the 1950s and 1960s.

VR: In the same McCoy Tyner liner notes, you were described as a "drummer who can play with presence and drive, but never get in anybody’s way." Do you agree?

RH: There is some truth to that, but that was then. You know what I am trying to say. Sometimes we read notes or review an article written by a certain person or even words that we said ourselves, and things have changed a little.

VR: What are you listening to these days?

RH: I keep my ears open to everything. Nothing I can think of right now. I listen to a lot of stuff. I don’t even know what it is. I always listen on the radio. I never go out to buy something. When I was teenager, I bought it. Now I just listen to what I hear.

VR: Are you aware that you share a birthday with trumpeter Blue Mitchell?

RH: Oh, Yes! We used to talk about it.

VR: Did the two of you share anything musically?

RH: He was much younger when he passed away and he didn’t completely develop into what he was going to be. He was a great musician and beautiful person. I think Dick Katz, the piano player, was born on the same day as well.

VR: If you could do it all over, would you do anything differently?

RH: Who knows? I hear a lot of people, when they are asked that question, that they would do it just the same. I am not saying either one because who knows. Who is to say that I could do it all over anyways?

Throughout the conversation, I was completely in awe of both Haynes’ eloquence and enthusiasm. Haynes undoubtedly still possesses the energy that has kept him innovative and exciting for so many years. Upon seeing him live, this amazement continued even further. Like his conversation, Haynes filled the jazz club with passion and grace and left the audience amazed by his youthful enthusiasm. Roy Haynes is definitely individual who does not let age get the best of him and treats every day like it was a new day. He was true enjoyment to both talk to and witness playing on stage.