Roy Haynes is the only living member of an elite group of drummers in the 1940s who altered the direction of jazz. In addition to Max Roach, Art Blakey and Kenny Clarke, Roy transformed the instrument's role from a tempo taskmaster to a dazzling conversationalist with an equal seat at the creative table. By inventively using the bass drum, snare and cymbals, Roy could prod, motivate and bait singers and soloists, all of whom relied on his intensity and rhythmic commentary to take greater melodic risks.
Roy's touch subtly teased out tonality while mischievously planting ideas. A perfect illustration is Sonny Rollins' The Sound of Sonny. Focus only on what Roy is doing with his sticks and brushes throughout. You'll hear dozens of different beats, taps, shoves, fake outs and sprayed patterns, all designed to keep the creative pot on a low boil. Listening to Roy on this one album, you'd think Sonny was playing with a tap dancer rather than a drummer. And that's why horn players, pianists and singers throughout the 1950s and beyond favored Roy. He wasn't static.
In Part 2 of my two-part conversation with Roy, the legendary percussive artist talks about bass players, Charlie Parker, violins, Max Roach, Miles Davis, fast cars, sharp clothes, meeting the woman who would become his wife, Thelonious Monk, and Billie Holiday:
JazzWax: From a drummer's standpoint, which bass player kept the best time in the 1940s? Tommy Potter?
Roy Haynes: It's not for me to say who was the best in the 40s. I don't know. I'll tell you one thing, Paul Chambers [pictured] was the best for me, in the 40s, 50s or whenever. I loved that guy. I loved that feeling he created. With Paul, the feeling was always there. I loved his warmth and how he could let certain notes ring short or long. He had so much warmth and imagination.
JW: But there were so many great bassists back in the 40's—Potter, Curly Russell, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown.
RH: Yeah, yeah, they were all good, too. But after I played with Paul in the mid-1950s, it was a whole different feeling. There was so much warmth there. Bass playing is all about how you let your notes ring and how you cut certain notes short. The bass developed into a completely new feeling with Paul. Back in the 1940s Tommy Potter was great, and Curly Russell was known to be a nice guy and a business guy who was always on time. He was very popular in those days. But the feeling with Paul Chambers, wow. I don't like to start naming a lot of different names or to say who has this or has that. A lot of people like to do that but it's not really my thing.
JW: The bass player is pretty important to the drummer, yes? He keeps time, and you play off of that?
RH: Definitely, definitely. He's critical to what I'm doing. I like to be around bass players who can feel what you're doing and play off of it. I'm a different type of drummer as well for the bass player and for everyone else. I'm constantly moving and shifting.
JW: Did you like playing with Charlie Parker?
RH: The first time I heard him on a record I knew he was different. The record was Hootie Blues, with Jay McShann and Walter Brown singing. You knew right away that Bird was unusual, that his approach was completely different than anything else you had heard. And that sound, it was so confident. [Photo of Jimmy Knepper, Roy and Charlie Parker]
JW: You played on many of the live performances of Bird with strings. Did you dig that format?
RH: I love melodies, and a lot of the tunes Charlie Parker played with the strings were melodic. The strings format sometimes could be a little stiff. But he was trying to reach that audience, I think, and it seemed to work.
JW: But did you like playing with the strings?
RH: It was cool, you know [laughing]. I don't think that I'd want to do that all night, every night. And we didn't. In fact, there were times when he'd stretch out on the strings stuff with the rhythm section and hang loose rather than play the arrangements as written.
JW: What was the big difference between you and Max Roach [pictured] behind Bird?
RH: I had and have a different type of cymbal beat, for one thing. Max's cymbal beat was more on the one: dah-dah dom, dah-dah dom, dah-dah dom. Mine is more dom dah-dah, dom dah-dah, dom dah-dah. That's as far as I'll go with that. [laughs] That's one of the things I'm sure Bird liked about me. Lester Young as well. I had a distinct cymbal beat. Beyond that, Max was one of the greatest drummers ever.
JW: Was Miles Davis naturally cool or did he have to work at it?
RH: [laughing] He was naturally cool. We were both into fast automobiles and sharp clothes. We both were mentioned in a 1960 Esquire article on style and clothes. We were both in our 30s back then, so we had a lot in common that way. In fact, 10 years earlier, in the summer of 1950, we both bought convertible automobiles the exact same week. It wasn't planned.
JW: What was Miles like to be around?
RH: Miles would always come by my gigs someplace with women and say to them [imitating Miles' raspy voice]: "Yeah, me and Roy, we used to smash up our cars. We were the sharpest mothers on 52d St." His exact words. There was a lot in common there. It was an exciting period, man. In fact, I met my wife when I was working with Miles in Brooklyn. It was Miles' gig, and she had come to see him. The ladies loved Miles. I had some fans, too, but I wasn't nearly as popular as Miles. He had just left Charlie Parker then and I had just left Lester Young. We were the coolest of the cool.
JW: Listening to Bud Powell, it sounds like he was always trying to throw off the drummer. True?
RH: Not really. Bud [pictured] could outfox anyone, another player. But not me or any drummer he played with. The drummer was going to make him sound good. It was beautiful playing behind him. Cause he had so much rhythm. All you had to do is accompany him.
JW: Did Charlie Parker like doing that Cole Porter date in 1954? He seemed to resist it. You played with him on most of the album's tracks in March of that year.
RH: It's hard to say whether he dug it or not. It could have been Norman Granz's idea.
JW: How did Sarah Vaughan come up with her signature introduction of you—saying your first name while you added a fill before she said your last name?
RH: She started introducing us on this tune she'd scat, which ended up being Shulie-A-Bop. We'd do that every night in the clubs. It just developed into that scene like it did. I can go all over the world, and someone will come up to me and say, "Roy...dat-dat-dat...Haynes." A lot of people remember that. It lived on.
JW: Did you have to listen hard to Sarah to figure out where she was going on a song?
RH: Usually I knew where she was going. But if she was scatting, naturally, that's ad-libbing, and I'd have to figure it out. But when you're with somebody for that length of time, five years, it all becomes second nature. I'm into lyrics. I love lyrics. Sarah Vaughan was the Charlie Parker of the vocalists during the 1950s. It was great. With Sarah, that was the first time I had gone to Europe, Africa, the West Indies and a lot of places in this country.
JW: Was she tough to work for?
RH: No, she was beautiful to work for. Most artists have a pretty good sense of humor, at least those who play this type of music.
JW: Here, listen [playing the track].
RH: Oh, yeah. OK, Cutie. Is that what it's called? I wish Sonny had played that at Carnegie Hall last fall. I heard he didn't want to release the album.
JW: He apparently didn't like how it sounded.
RH: That's fine. Look he hears what he hears. It's a feeling, you know. I would hope that he'd release it someday.
JW: Your brush work on Cutie is a trip.
RH: I don't play brushes often anymore. I did use them on one of my gigs recently with my quartet. There was a drummer there who later wanted me to show him some things. You know, brushes are not too popular now. Everything is about power. I think I'm going to start playing more brushes because a lot of other drummers don't play them.
JW: Monk's greatest live recordings, in my opinion, were made with you at New York's Five Spot in 1958. You were having some "conversation" with him on those recordings.
RH: We were there for about 18 weeks, three sets a night by the time Monk would show up. Sometimes he wouldn't turn up until there was no telling what time. That was a very exciting period. That was one of my first gigs after leaving Sarah. I had young children then, so it was nice to play the gig, hang out a little bit and then go home.
JW: Did you and Monk work out in advance what you'd play?
RH: Monk didn't talk that much. He would hire you for what you do. At least in my case that was the situation. We were in the Five Spot more than once, you know. He didn't call me for the dates. He had Nica [de Koenigswarter], the Baroness, call me. He was close with her.
JW: Was Monk hard to play with?
RH: There was a lot that was tricky about playing with Monk. It's a musical language where there's really no lyrics. It's something you feel and you're hearing. It's like an ongoing conversation. Like you mentioned before, you really had to listen to this guy. Cause he could play the strangest tempos, and they could be very in-between tempos on some of those compositions. You know. It was a lot. You really had to listen to his arrangements and the way he would play them. On his solos, you'd really have to listen good in there. You'd have to concentrate on what you were doing as well.
JW: Tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin also was with you. Did his playing get in the way while you were trying to listen to Monk?
RH: Not really. Sometimes John would play just the melody of a Monk song. Then when he'd play his solo, it was different. At that point, he's leading his own thing and you're behind him at that point, listening to what he's doing and playing off him.
JW: Billie Holiday's last club recording was April 1959 at George Wein's Storyville club in Boston. You were on drums. Do you remember the gig? Was Billie ill?
RH: Of course. [singing in a deep voice, from Gigi] "I remember it well." I didn't see Billie in bad shape. I thought she was cool. We were playing there for a week. She was cool. I remember the club was crowded every night. A lot of my friends came in. My wife was there for the whole weekend. She wanted to tape it, but I said, "No, Billie isn't going to allow that." Looking back, Billie probably wouldn't have been aware of it. All in all, it was a beautiful week.
JW: Was it different playing behind Billie compared to Sarah?
RH: Billie was from an older school than Sarah but I loved that. I just played some nice soft brushes behind her. I do remember that when she'd get off the set, she go and cry. It was sad. She told me she had cirrhosis of the liver, the same thing Lester Young had died from. But her voice sounded good that week. You'd never have known that just three months later she'd be gone.
JazzWax tracks: Roy Haynes played on dozens of critical studio dates and live recordings in the 1950s. Here's a sampling:
Roy and Paul Chambers recorded together on Introducing Nat Adderley (1955); We Three (1958) with pianist Phineas Newborn Jr.; The Great Kai and Jay (1960) with Bill Evans; and Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961).
Charlie Parker Plays Cole Porter (1954) features Roy on four tracks. The best one is I Get a Kick Out of You. You can find all seven takes of this song at iTunes by typing in "Charlie Parker + Cole Porter" into the search bar. It's a fascinating study of Bird on one of his last studio dates.
The Sound of Sonny remains one of Sonny Rollins' best albums and a brilliant showcase for Roy. The Five Spot recordings were originally released on two Riverside albums called Misterioso and Thelonious in Action. Both are available as downloads. Also available as a download at Amazon is At The Five Spot, a Milestone two-fer from the 1970s that combined the masters.
Billie Holiday's last club performance at Storyville in April 1959 is out of print. But I found most of the tracks on Billie Holiday: Rare Live Performances 1934-1959. They can be downloaded here. The tracks you want are Nos. 15-19 on disc #5.
And A Life in Time: The Roy Haynes Story, a remastered retrospective of Roy's entire career, featuring two CDs and a bonus DVD, is available at iTunes and here.