by Rick Mattingly
There has been a long-standing misperception about Roy Haynes - one that the influential jazz drummer wants cleared up once and for all. "Everything you read about me says I was born in 1926, but that's wrong. I was born in 1925, so I'm 73 now, not 72," Haynes says, proudly. "When you're younger, you want to stay young, but now that I'm older, I just want to be myself."
Haynes has certainly been his own man in terms of his drumming. With solid roots in the swing style, his early gigs established him as a master of bebop playing, and as his career progressed, Haynes was able to adapt his playing to a variety of styles including avant-garde jazz and fusion, without ever losing his own identity. "My biggest influence was Jonathan - "Papa Jo" [Jones]," he says. "I also listened to Chick Webb a lot when I was a teenager, but I never got to hear him live; I just had the records. And then there were people like Shadow Wilson and Kenny Clarke, and of course Max [Roach] and Art [Blakey]. I tried to listen to everybody. I didn't try to do what everyone else had done, but I listened. My ears were always open."
Haynes own style was characterized by crispness and finesse, as well as a tremendous sense of drive. His drumming always sounded modern and very, very hip. Jack DeJohnette is one of many who credits Haynes as paving the way for the drumming of Elvin Jones and Tony Williams.
"A lot of people describe my drumming as 'snap, crackle'," Haynes says. "I think George Shearing and Al McKibbon were the first to use that term in reference to my playing, and I can understand that. I never analyzed it, though. That was just a sound that I liked and felt comfortable with. I did a little bit of drum and bugle corps drumming in school, but I was never really a rudimental drummer, so I think my sound comes from my mind more than my hands.
"Every time I read something about myself it usually says 'bebop.' I recently had a review in The Village Voice about my week-long gig at the Village Vanguard, and they called me 'hard bop.' I would have liked it more if they had said 'hard swing.' I'm not always comfortable with those labels that people use. I'm just an old-time drummer who tries to play with feeling."
A career that spans more than fifty years might well indeed qualify someone for the term "old-time drummer," but Haynes' playing has never sounded dated. On the contrary, in every decade he has been associated with musicians on the cutting edge, having worked with such artists as Lester Young and Charlie Parker in the 1940s, Bud Powell, Sarah Vaughan and Thelonious Monk in the '50s, Stan Getz and Gary Burton in the '60s, Chick Corea in the '70s and '80s, and Pat Metheny in the '80s and '90s.
"Once when I was touring with Chick and Miroslav Vitous," Haynes recalls, "we did a gig in Detroit. J.C. Heard was still living, and he was a drummer I had always admired because he was a lot like Jo Jones - he even looked like Jo. Some young drummers came to hear us, and then they went to see J.C. and told him that there was a new, young guy playing with Chick Corea. When they told J.C. that this new drummer's name was Roy Haynes, J.C. said, 'What are you talking about? Roy Haynes is almost as old as me!' But even though I'm older than a lot of the people I play with, when we're on stage, we're the same age.
"A lot of times over the years, when I wasn't getting too much credit for what I was doing, people would look at me like a new guy until they started checking me out and finding out what I had done. So for a long time, I felt like one of the best-kept secrets in jazz."
Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Haynes began playing professionally in Boston nightclubs when he was a teenager, working with such leaders as Sabby Lewis, Pete Brown, Frankie Newton, and Felix Barbozza. After moving to New York in 1945, he spent two years working with the big band of Luis Russell. "They told me I changed the style of Luis Russell's band," Haynes says. "I didn't know that, but that's what people in the band told my brother. I was just trying to catch all the figures and make the band swing." During that time, Haynes also subbed with Louis Armstrong's big band.
In 1947 Haynes landed a gig with saxophonist Lester Young, whose band often backed vocalist Billie Holliday. Haynes spent two years with Young, and then did a "Jazz at the Philharmonic" tour in 1949, after which he returned to New York and played with a number of prominent musicians on the famed 52nd St., including Miles Davis, Bud Powell and Kai Winding, before joining Charlie "Bird" Parker's band, where he stayed for three years.
In 1953, Haynes began working with vocalist Sarah Vaughan, a gig that lasted until 1958. Afterwards he worked with Thelonious Monk, Eric Dolphy, Lennie Tristano, and Stan Getz, and also led his own group. From 1961-65 he often subbed for Elvin Jones with John Coltrane's quartet. "I knew what you had to do with people like Stan Getz or Sarah Vaughan," Haynes says. "But with John Coltrane, I was able to let it all hang out, so to speak. He understood what I was trying to do. Charlie Parker did, too."
From 1965-67 Haynes worked with Stan Getz, whose band featured a young vibraphonist named Gary Burton. Haynes worked with Burton's influential group in the late '60s, which included guitarist Larry Coryell and bassist Steve Swallow. Afterward, Haynes led his own band, the Hip Ensemble, which also played in the jazz-rock style. During this time, Haynes often augmented his drumset with timpani. "I got some five-star reviews with the Hip Ensemble," Haynes says. "We were a little different and there were a lot of things happening."
Haynes did a lot of recording in the 1970s with artists including Gary Burton, Stan Getz, Duke Jordan, Hank Jones, Art Pepper, Ted Curson, and Joe Albany, and in 1979 he performed with Dizzy Gillespie. In 1981, Chick Corea, Miroslav Vitous and Haynes - who had recorded together in 1968 - worked together in Corea's Trio Music band, and Haynes continued to lead his own band and record with a variety of artists. He appeared on Pat Metheny's Question and Answer album in 1989, and Metheny appeared on Haynes' 1996 album Te Vou! on the Dreyfus label. Haynes' most recent solo album is Praise, released in October 1998 on Dreyfus. In November 1998, Concord Records released Gary Burton's album, Like Minds, which features Haynes, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, and Dave Holland. "Roy was the only one who had worked with all of us," says Burton. "He almost shifted gears as he went from soloist to soloist and did what he knew each of us would be most comfortable with."
In recent years, this "best kept secret in jazz" has been honored with numerous awards, including the prestigious French Chevalier des l'Ordres Artes et des Lettres in 1996. In September 1998, Haynes, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Louis Bellson were presented with American Drummers Achievement Awards by the Zildjian company, and Haynes says he is grateful to the PAS for "remembering me and honoring me" with the PAS Hall of Fame award.
Although Haynes claims to be "semi-retired," that's like saying that a glass is half empty. You can just as easily say that the glass is half full, and you can certainly say that Roy Haynes is still very active. What keeps him so young? "If I knew that, I would sell it," he says, laughing. "Maybe the secret of staying youthful is playing the drums. I know that performing makes me feel good, and it also makes me sleep well."