FIRESIDE CHAT WITH ROY HAYNES
It is difficult to think
of a person who Roy Haynes hasn't played with. The immortal John Coltrane,
Haynes played with him. Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Stan Getz, done
that. Sarah Vaughan, Roy was right there by her side for many years. I
could go on and on, but my fingers hurt from typing on this laptop (damn
Gateway). But far me it for me to tell you, I will let Mr. Royal of Haynes
tell you himself, as we spoke on the eve of the release of his latest
recording for Verve, unedited and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from
HAYNES: I got started in Boston, Massachusetts when I was very young.
I had a older brother that was born in Barbados, where my folks were from
and he had a pair of drumsticks around the house and I remember picking
up those drumsticks. Don't ask me what year it was or how old I was. I
was very young, who knows maybe nine, seven, eight, or nine. And I had
the feeling that I wanted to play. As I say then, I was just a natural
player or a natural drummer.
A drummer once told me that the drums choose you.
HAYNES: Yeah, I agree, but you must have heard somebody say that that
was much older because it's different these days. Kids think they can
play or just want to learn how to play and before you know it, they are
professional. They got a record contract already. That is not necessarily
just on drums, but on a lot of instruments. So it is different these days
than it was a long time ago. A lot of the drummers that were around when
I started, they were just natural players, seemingly to me, including
people like Buddy Rich, Jo Jones, Shadow Wilson. I don't want to just
name a few. I don't want to name a hundred neither.
Let's touch on some of the personalities that you have worked with who
are nothing short of legends, your thoughts on Lester Young.
HAYNES: I joined Lester, his nickname was Prez, for President. I joined
Lester, I think it was around October of 1947 in New York at the Savoy
Ballroom in Harlem. That's the same place I had joined a big band. Luis
Russell, who had sent for me from Boston to come to New York. Anyhow,
I stayed with Lester from 1947 till 1949. And the only reason that I had
left was because he had went to Norman Granz' Jazz at the Philharmonic.
And naturally, he didn't take the band because that was like an all-star
tour. After that, I got popular. I was working with Miles Davis, Charlie
Parker, and the list goes on and on.
Let's talk about Charlie Parker, there has been so much written about
the man, your thoughts on Bird.
HAYNES: I think Charlie Parker may have been one of the first geniuses
that I have performed with for a long period. He was just an extraordinary
gentleman. He was quite different. He wasn't always talking or teaching,
but I guess every time he would put his horn in his mouth, it was a lesson
right there. His way of life, except for his personal problems and things
like that, he was a very interesting person.
You worked with Stan Getz, on and off, for an extensive period of time.
HAYNES: You know, Fred, I was thinking about him for some reason earlier.
What brought him to my mind was, yes, I started working with Stan Getz
maybe late '49, or something like that, '50, and well, he had problems
too (laughing). He had a lot of problems. He could be a sweetheart for
ten minutes and he could be an asshole for the rest of the day (laughing).
You seemed to be able to cope with his dramatic mood swings, working with
him throughout different periods of his career.
HAYNES: Yeah, at different times, but I had some strange periods in there.
We didn't get to fighting or anything, but his personality rubbed against
mine or vice versa.
That kind of personality clash did not seem to have surfaced with your
tenure as the drummer for Sarah Vaughan.
HAYNES: When I was a teenager, when I played in Boston with bands, there
were always vocalists. From the beginning, my first job, when I was still
in high school was in Boston and there was a lady who was still around
now. Her name is Mabel Robinson. They just recently had a tribute for
her in Boston, just a matter of months ago and she sang and played the
piano, so it was nothing new for me. I like singers anyhow. I was always
into lyrics and songs. So that was really nothing new. To stay with a
singer for the length of time I stayed with Sarah Vaughan, which was five
years, it was great. Sarah was a genius in her right as well. She wasn't
just a vocalist. She was a great musician.
And of course, many people know you from your work with John Coltrane.
You appear on Trane's Dear Old Stockholm.
HAYNES: John Coltrane, I could do almost anything that would come to my
mind that I would think would fit with his music. Like things that I wouldn't
have tried to do in the late Forties or Fifties, but when I played with
John Coltrane it was in the Sixties and that was a great period. He was
exploring musically and so it was an opening for me to say a lot of the
things that I had always wanted to say and it seemed to work with John
Is there anyone you have not played with?
HAYNES: I'm sure there are. I didn't play with Duke Ellington, but he
did offer me a job with his band in 1952.
You turned it down?
HAYNES: I did. We were playing at Carnegie Hall and Duke was the headliner
and they had Charlie Parker there and that is who I was playing with.
I had left the big band in 1947, just before I joined Lester Young and
this new music was happening and I wanted to be with the smaller groups
because you could express yourself more for a drummer. And then a lot
of the older players, they were hard on drummers in the early days when
I was coming up. So some of those guys were in Duke's band and I figured
I would run into some problems so rather than mess up the name Roy Haynes,
I stayed away from it and Duke Ellington always joked about that with
me when I would see him. I was honored to have been asked to play with
him. To me, that was a great thing in itself.
You have been careful not to tarnish the name Roy Haynes.
HAYNES: I have never heard of it put that way. It does really feel good,
yes, of course. It feels good when the way somebody will say your name
or when your name comes up, somebody will rejoice. I remember one time,
I was someplace and they said, "There is royalty in the house." It can
be very inspiring. It feels good, of course.
Well, you are the Royal of Haynes.
HAYNES: Being Roy Haynes is rewarding in it of itself. You know what I
feel good about, Fred, to have lived this long and to be still playing
the music, still innovating, still going places where people are so surprised.
Like last week, I was in Wilmington, North Carolina and Fred, the people
just went crazy. I was there with my original quartet and people went
crazy. We couldn't get off. All the ladies, females, oh, man, it really
feels good to have been around this long and to be still playing. It feels
What has been the most memorable comment that has been made to Roy Haynes?
HAYNES: Well, there are some that I can't even remember. When you get
to this age, some things are in the back of your mind and they come up
every now and then. Somebody had said once, they were talking about me
and they were talking to me and I must have said, "Well, I'm not a household
name." And then one gentleman said, "Yes, in my home, you are." I will
never forget that. That was some years ago. To go all over the world and
there is always somebody that knows about you that you haven't met and
that loves your music and loves you already, that is a great reward in
it of itself.
You were a recipient of the Danish Jazzpar Prize in 1994, a very prestigious
award for an artist, which must have been quite a humbling experience.
HAYNES: It certainly was. I'll tell you what, Fred, now that you mention
that Danish award in 1994. I would have forgot what year it was. That
was the greatest inspiration as far as getting an award so far in my career.
What was so great about it was they were awarding people from different
parts of the world, who they thought were not recognized enough. That
in it of itself, you know, here at home, that had to happen to me in Europe.
I was riding on a plane to someplace and my band was on the plane with
me and my bass player was sitting behind me on the plane and he was reading
the International Tribune and I think there is a column called "People's
Column" in there and it said, "American drummer, Roy Haynes gets this
award." It was so great because not only getting the reward, they did
give me some money too, which also was great, but they advertised it all
over the world. I got a award in Washington DC at the library or something,
and I got awarded but nobody knew anything about it and it was in Washington
DC, here in the United States of America, but it wasn't advertised and
it wasn't a big thing. But here, go to a Scandinavian country and get
this award, I think that was sort of a slap in the face for this country
as far as Roy Haynes was concerned because I was kind of a big secret
for many, many years.
The word has gotten out now.
HAYNES: Well, not really a hundred percent because all the musicians know
about me, certain jazz fans, but now it is becoming more worldwide and
it is appreciated more, which makes me feel better.
Let's talk about your new album on Verve, The Roy Haynes Trio with Danilo
Perez and John Patitucci.
HAYNES: We had played together last year. In fact, we had played Carnegie
Hall the year before. That was the first time and then we did some festivals
throughout the world and everyone was saying it was so great and that
you have to record. You have to record. It happened and it was Verve that
did it. I had suggested, I usually like doing live things and we did half
of it live in Boston at Scullers and the rest in the studio here in New
York and I've been getting great feedback every place I've been. The record
has only been out since the eighteenth and it was being played on the
In the previous conversations we have had, you have spoken of your distain
for studio work.
HAYNES: It is not that I really don't like it. It takes me a while to
get comfortable in the studio. First of all, you are wearing those headphones,
stuck back in a corner or in another room in this glass enclosure. It
is a different thing and a lot of people love it and that is their thing,
but I'm just an old time natural player. I got to hear those guys and
be able to get some eye contact and feel the vibe so to speak, rather
than it coming through a headphone. It takes me a while before I'm comfortable
in a studio.
Are you still writing?
HAYNES: I'm writing definitely, but not on paper (laughing). Why stop
At the conclusion of your career, what would kind of a legacy would you
like to leave behind?
HAYNES: For a while, a few years ago, I was saying that I was semi-retired.
I was feeling good. I had dogs out here and I had tropical fish and I
started working so much again after that, after a couple of years, that
I had to get rid of all that stuff. I'd come home and the fish would be
sick and the dogs would be in the kennels. I got rid of all of that and
now I am just playing. I never wanted to be one of the guys that played,
played, and played. You're on the road and then you die, but it looks
like it may go down the same way. It looks like I may continue to play
and play. I get so inspired and I guess that is part of my therapy at
Jung is Jazz Weekly's Editor-In-Chief and is the only person in the country
that doesn't love Raymond. Comments? Email