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Sons of Miles
ROY HAYNES : No Beats to Waste
by Mike Zwerin
29 October 1998

"Stan Getz liked my beat, he loved to play with Roy Haynes," says Roy Haynes, who likes the sound of his Third Person.

Positive subjective judgments sound more objective from that perspective. In his case, the sound itself implies stature. Lester Young told him: "You should be called the Royal of Haynes." Roy Haynes is the only drummer to have played with (not all at the same time) Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

Others also tend to refer to him with both names, running them together, syncopated - Royhaynes, accent on the "Ro." It sounds like him. Dorothy Donegan says he's getting to look more like Count Basie drummer Jo Jones every day. Which means to say royal, clean, crispy.

His discreet, flexible tatoo controls the time and space and the dynamic of whatever formation he's part of. He's compact, energy-packed, confident. He chooses his shots. He's a warrior, the battle plan is his: "Remember Town Hall a few years ago? You were there. I put Michel Petrucciani in the pocket. I'm known for putting cats in the pocket. That's what I do." (The "pocket" is the place where the pool-ball of tempo should be shot.)

It started in 1944 at the age of 18 with Frankie Newton and Sabby Lewis in his hometown Boston. His style eventually became so pervasively subversive that, without being known as a leader, or even a "star," he is behind certain key elements common to an eclectic list of people including Art Pepper, Sarah Vaughan, Chick Corea, Thelonius Monk, Eric Dolphy and Gary Burton (Larry Coryell, Steve Swallow and Roy Haynes were the rhythm section for Burton's mid-'60s groundbreaking jazz-rock fusion efforts). >From 1961 to 1965, He was Elvin Jones's principal substitute with the John Coltrane Quartet.

Trane described his time as "spreading, permeating." Leaving Charlie Parker to form his own band, Max Roach advised his boss: "Hire Roy Haynes."

The British critic Brian Priestly wrote: "Roy manages to be intelligently insistent and provocative in accompaniment without overpowering the soloist." Jazz Hot magazine put him on its cover when he arrived in Paris in 1954 with Sarah Vaughan. (Roy Haynes was impressed with a culture interested in the drummer not the star.) "Roy Haynes should be immortalized," said Sonny Rollins. "I can dig his statue somewhere, like the one of Sydney Bechet in Antibes."

Although universally acknowledged as a prime mover by soloists, leaders, critics and other drummers, the general public has never truly appreciated his stature. When I asked him why he thought that was, he looked at me with astonishment: "You think I'm not appreciated? Man, you must be getting out of touch, living here in Paris.

"I was giving a lecture for a workshop in Massachusetts and when they announced 'Roy Haynes,' the kids shouted - kids are so hip these days - they shouted 'Yeah yeah yeah' and cheered and applauded. They just went crazy. I got a standing ovation for just standing there. I hadn't even played yet. It just happened. Boom!"

After hearing him in Chicago one night, a reporter from Down Beat magazine said he didn't know he could play like that. Haynes did not consider this a compliment: "You know, I'd been doing it for a long time. And he wanted to know where I'd learned it. Man, a lot of drummers copped my important stuff. I was there first."

He had the distinct impression that the reporter was surprised he could do an Elvin Jones impersonation so well. But Roy Haynes knew for a fact that Elvin had been listening to him play that way back in the '50s, before anybody else was doing whatever you call it - "spreading the rhythm," "suggesting the beat," "elastic," "melodic," "permeating."

This is the way the most advanced drummers like Jeff (Tain) Watts (with the Marsalis brothers) and Jack DeJohnette play now. Any credit witheld from him is not the drummers' fault, they all admit their debt to Roy Haynes. But it's been going on so long and it just got to him this time. He couldn't resist telling the reporter: "I think you should talk to Elvin about that."

"I'm an uncrowned king," he says, head held high. "I don't have to win any polls to know that." He does not win many. "I'm cool, I know. I've been to the mountaintop."

Along the way, he began to dress like royalty - custom-made suits, Italian shoes, sharp hats. Esquire magazine put him on their best-dressed list. Along with Miles Davis, one of only two African Americans, and only two jazzmen. The New York Times referred to him as "the dapper drummer." he started to suspect that he was better known for his clothes than his drumming. It got to be a "mixed blessing, still is. If I have a hole in my sock, some girl will say: 'Hey, I thought you were supposed to be well dressed.'

Roy Haynes

"I have a 10-speed bike, quite a few grand-children, two Doberman pinschers. I have an original 1974 Malcolm Bricklin car. You know, he was De Lorean's buddy. I win prizes with it. I live in Freeport on the south shore of Long Island, not far from where Guy Lombardo used to live. I don't work a lot. I don't have to. I've made myself comfortable. It's good for the mind to play music, but now people are asking me to back up singers and do all-star tours with a whole bunch of horn players. That stuff is not good for the mind. I need time to think and dream. I'm a dreamer.

"Some agent called and asked me to lead a sort of Art Blakey ghost band, he even suggested I get some of the guys from the Jazz Messengers. His point is it would make a lot of money, and he does have a point. But why should I do that. It doesn't mean anything. This cat has got to be joking. Man, I played with Bird, with Trane, I played with Billie Holiday. Art Blakey used to admire me.

My career is catching up with me. I call my own shots. I only play on Roy Haynes dates. I'm the leader. I do what I want to do when I want to do it. When I play, it has to mean something. Let it float like a balloon. I'm talking about jazz. Other people did it, but Roy Haynes did it and did it and did it.

"I don't like to pin compliments on myself, but..." Yes he does: "...But I'm one of the last innovators from the '40s who's still out there saying something new. I couldn't really be myself with Trane or Getz because my job was to accompany them. They came first, that was my role. And it was cool. They didn't need a drummer juggling between his right and left feet and hands getting in their way. But my kids are grown up, my mortgage is paid and now I don't have to worry about making anybody sound good but myself.

"I have a good band now. Young guys, they play the way I like. Anybody else wants me to play with them, it has to be somebody I respect, somebody who wants to take risks like I do. Guys like Pat Metheny" on "Question And Answer," with Dave Holland, bass, Geffen Records. Dig it. This is my religion. It's what I believe in. I don't waste beats. Roy Haynes has no beats to waste."

Photo: Roy Haynes.
Credit: Christian Rose

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