Chick Corea and Roy Haynes: Synchronized Times
Put two old friends and musical colleagues like Chick Corea and Roy Haynes in the same conversation and mutual admiration is likely to be deep in the house. Their collective experience would make for a thick volume of jazz history. The always ebullient Haynes arrived first at the appointed time in New York City, coming in out of the pouring rain, toting a silky, dusty-rose colored suit for the afternoon’s photo shoot. Full of youthful fire and devil may care attitude, he proceeded to sit down at a studio drum set and warm the room, as if to rid the space of any lingering demons. The somewhat more exacting Corea arrived later, confident of what ground rules he wished to establish for the photo session. He brought with him several stylish outfits, including a loosely tailored Oriental suit. Throughout the afternoon an air of formidable artistry permeated our encounter.
Drum/piano partners since a 1968 Corea recording date, Haynes and Corea have a relationship that extends well beyond the bandstand. The affection and respect they have for each other couldn’t be more obvious. We caught up with them in the midst of busy schedules. Chick was just back from his Origin band tour. (“I’m sleeping the tour off,” he joked). Roy was excited about a new recording.
Their collective memory is also broad and deep, with each musician tending to defer to the other as they share their recollections. An example came early in the conversation when Chick, master pianist and frustrated drummer, recalled a flat ride cymbal he’d once borrowed from Haynes; the same flat ride cymbal that Roy claims to have invented for the Paiste company. In anticipation of our conversation. Chick had actually brought the cymbal to New York, ostensibly to return it to Roy. Chick’s assistant fetched the ancient metallic warrior from Corea’s hotel room, thus sparking some fond memories.
JazzTimes: How far back do the two of you go and how did you initially connect?
Chick: I remember meeting Roy in the Stan Getz band. I think that was ’67, when Gary Burton left the band. We played concerts around the world for awhile [with Getz]; I remember we played a New Year’s Eve event in Mexico.
Roy: At La Fuente.
Chick: I also remember we went to Athens, Greece; I’ll never forget hanging with Roy on a mountainside there drinking Retsina and just enjoying the weather. That was ’67, the first year I was in the band with Stan. Roy was playing drums and Steve Swallow was playing bass and I was enjoying myself immensely because I had never worked with such a rhythm team like that; they made me even think I was sounding good! [Laughs]
Roy : I do remember when we were playing with Stan Getz, places like the London House [in Chicago], and I also remember playing someplace in Boston...
Chick: Lenny’s On The Turnpike...
Roy: When Stan would leave the bandstand we would start to hook up with different rhythm things. It would sound so great that [Stan] wouldn’t waste too much time getting back on the bandstand. [Laughs]
JazzTimes: Chick, your trio with Roy and Miroslav—was Now He Sings Now He Sobs your first recording project?
Chick: It was actually my third record as a leader; my first one was a quintet with Joe Farrell and Woody Shaw.
JazzTimes: Were both of you still working with Stan when you recorded Now He Sings?
Chick: I think we were; it was a change in record companies for me, and I was offered a chance to do something. As a matter of fact the guy who offered me that date—at that time the label was Solid State—was Manny Albam; he somehow was in the A&R loop there. I told him the record I wanted to do was a trio record with Roy and Miroslav.
JazzTimes: When you guys worked with Stan it seems like you locked up pretty quickly, musically.
Chick: For me that’s what happened. I started judging every other drummer by Roy’s standards at that point.
Roy: [Laughs] Hey, that sounds pretty exciting to me! That’s very inspiring, thank you very much Stan—indirectly, Stan. I was familiar with Chick from a group called the Sister Sadie All-Stars that was more or less Horace Silver’s group without Horace. I was noticing the things that Chick was doing and the different categories that he seemed to be comfortable with; I was checking him out then.
Chick: That was in ’64-’65.
JazzTimes: Who was in that band?
Chick: Blue Mitchell, Junior Cook, Gene Taylor, and Roy Brooks.
JazzTimes: Wasn’t that the band that you recorded with on Blue Note under Blue Mitchell’s name?
Chick: Except that by the time the recording came along, Al Foster was the drummer instead of Roy Brooks.
JazzTimes: So even though you are both natives of the area, you had never hooked up around Boston?
Chick: I didn’t know Roy in the Boston area; I knew he was a Bostonian but he had left Boston long before I came around.
Roy: Yeah, I left Boston in 1945. Chick, how old were you in 1945?
Chick: I was four years old.
Roy: [Laughs] For real? You couldn’t have been four [Laughs]!
JazzTimes: So you first linked up with Getz, did the Now He Sings date, then came back together in the ’80s in the trio with Miroslav, then most recently in the Bud Powell project. Chick, when you were putting together that Bud Powell band [with Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, Wallace Roney, Kenny Garrett], how did you decide on Roy Haynes on drums?
Chick: Every time I’ve done a project with Roy, even back to the first record—I don’t know if Roy knows this—I’ve always called Roy and consulted with him first about how he felt about the project, because I knew that he was key to the project and if it was something that he felt he wanted to get into that it would fly from that point forward. It was similar with the Bud Powell project; I had been wanting to do something on Bud Powell for years and when the space and time came around that I thought would be good—I hadn’t had my own band working for a couple of years at that point—and it was a good time for me to put the project together. So I called Roy first to ask him what he even thought about the project, like what did he think about me arranging Bud’s compositions, and I told him who I had in mind for the band, I just wanted to get his input. If he hadn’t felt good about the project or couldn’t make it or something, I would have had to re-think the whole thing or maybe not do it at all.
JazzTimes: That band had about three generations: Roy, yourself, and the younger guys.
Chick: Yeah, you could say three, maybe four generations!
Roy: When you say three generations or how many generations you’re dealing with, do you think that really should make a difference?
JazzTimes: No, I don’t think it necessarily makes a difference, but it does make for an interesting musical mix because to a certain extent you’ve got different backgrounds there.
Roy: Maybe we’re looking at the same direction!
JazzTimes: Is that how it wound up being?
Chick: It’s true, I know what Roy’s saying, that every time you come to the music it’s not with experience and history, it’s with just that moment. You come to the music and you play it with what’s there and I think certain musicians who are able to do that constantly transcend time; you can’t pin them down.
JazzTimes: That must have been an interesting process, putting together a band composed of all bandleaders.
Chick: Everyone knew it was a project and the most important thing to understand is that everyone knew Roy would be there. As soon as Roy said he’d like to do it and he would make the gig, then, when I told the others Roy would be the drummer, it was an easy sell.
JazzTimes: So Roy was kind of the glue in the band?
Chick: More than the glue. Josh [Redman] had never played with Roy and he wanted very much to work with Roy, and the same was true with the other guys in the band. Roy, I was saying that you were the kingpin.
Roy: I wish we could do it again, Chick. I enjoyed it and I get a lot of positive feedback from it.
JazzTimes: Roy, it’s clear that you must have been the linchpin since it was easier for Chick to recruit the rest of the band once they knew you were on board.
Roy: That may be so and that makes me feel good, naturally. I really enjoyed doing it.
Chick: We had a ball! We did two different tours; one with Josh and then the second tour Josh had commitments and couldn’t make it, so Kenny Garrett came on for the second tour. Each gig was a real big pleasure.
JazzTimes: What is it about Roy’s drumming that makes it so easy for you to work with him from a pianistic standpoint?
Chick: First of all you’ve gotta understand...
Roy: That Chick plays drums too! [Laughs]
Chick: Yeah, I get into the music that I make through the drums, I always have even though on the bandstand I’m not playing the drums. In jazz music the drummer has to have the wide look, he has to contain everything else that’s happening in the music the way we like to play it; so it’s always an important role. It’s hard to put into words what different guys do, but for sure with Roy it’s not just the way he plays the drums, it’s the way he leads an ensemble and the way he just conceives of the music. He puts his emotional and compositional stamp on everything that we do and it’s easy to get in the atmosphere that he creates and then create from that as well. I could tell you a lot of things technically about what Roy does, but that’s the main thing, he plays the music like a composer.
JazzTimes: So he plays kind of an orchestral drum set?
Chick: I would say; plus the fact that the thing that drives the music—the swing, the beat, the groove, the tempo—that’s the thing that’s the thread through everything. For example, Roy, you were playing in Sardinia in a trio with Danilo Perez and John Pattituci this summer. The band was playing a ballad and Roy was playing brushes. I took some of my friends, guys in my band, and I said, ‘Come on, let’s check this out’ because I wanted them to see how Roy plays the rhythm in a ballad. Of course, in the live mix you couldn’t hear the drums as well as I would have mixed it, so I brought everybody up front. It was a demonstration of how Roy plays very delicately for a ballad but keeps a great groove going. It’s a very unique thing to see coming from a drummer.
JazzTimes: Roy, it seems that some drummer-bandleaders don’t often use piano players in their bands, but you don’t seem to have had any problems with pianists in your band. Talk about your drumming relationship with Chick Corea’s piano style and why that seems to work so well for both of you.
Roy: What’s really so great about having played as long as I’ve been playing, and to play with people like Chick and to listen to him describe what I’m trying to do on the instrument, I’m actually learning more about what I’m doing—or what I’m trying to do—and its so great! I’ve been playing over 50 years and to listen to Chick describe the way that I’m playing this ballad with the brushes, it’s really a compliment, and it’s so great coming from an artist like himself. There was a period when I had the group the Roy Haynes Hip Ensemble when I was not using a piano at all, I was using the guitar. Chick plays drums; he’s a very percussive player and I can almost do anything that I want to do with Chick and he’ll get something out of it. It could be as wrong as anything else, but when you play with people like Chick Corea it makes it much more easy for me.
JazzTimes: It sounds as though drumming with Chick is perhaps a more comfortable and at the same time challenging proposition because he is so drum savvy.
Roy: I guess it depends on the drummer, and the way you’re thinking, the way you’re approaching the instrument yourself.
JazzTimes: Your partnership resumed with a recent recording session with Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, and Dave Holland for Concord.
Chick: That was a very friendly session. We spent a couple of days playing some of Pat Metheny’s older songs, a couple of mine, and I encouraged Gary Burton to write a new one on his own. He doesn’t usually write, but I think he writes well when he does. It was a lot of fun. It was the first time I had played with Dave Holland in maybe 20 years and it’s always a ball playing with Roy. And Gary and I have had a really good hook-up for years, so it was fun.
Roy: I have a new record for Dreyfus, called Praise. One of the first tracks we play [“Mirror, Mirror”] is one of Chick’s tunes. I always like Chick’s writing, even though a lot of it is very involved for me to try to deal with [laughs]. But I always enjoy it. The new record is with Kenny Garrett, David Kikoski, David Sanchez, Dwayne Burno, and Graham Haynes. The music is about life and the life that I’ve been living in this environment, with different people that I’ve been involved with.
Chick: The record is incredible, some of the best recorded Haynes!
Roy: Hey Chick, thank you so much!
Chick: It’s true, that’s one of the things about Roy—once you get up into your 50s and 60s...
Roy: and 70s... [Laughs]
Chick: I didn’t want to go that far!
Roy: Hey Chick, you better look out, before you know it...
Chick: I’m there! People always comment about your age, Roy.
Roy: I’ve been hearing it so much... I live on Long Island and I’m into sports cars and one of my cars is in a show, so I had to have some work done on it and I didn’t want to be taking taxis back and forth so I got on the bus. I’m trying to get the senior citizens discount and the lady bus driver didn’t want to give it to me! She said, ‘you don’t look like a senior citizen’; I get a kick out of it, but sometimes I want to kick their butt (laughs), because I’ve earned this, so why not use it?
Chick: People comment on your age, but the thing is it’s a rare occasion and an inspiring occasion when you have someone, an artist, that the older he gets the better he plays, and he just keeps getting better and better...and that’s the buzz word on Roy Haynes. If you go on the streets and talk to musicians, they say “Man, do you know that cat’s 72 years old and he’s kickin’ everybody’s butt.”
Roy: [Laughs] Hey Chick, I’m really trying to keep up! I make it sound like I’m doing this, I’m doing that, I’m just trying to keep up with what’s happening.
Chick: Whatever’s happening in your head is one thing, but the impression every body else is getting is that you’re kickin’ butt!
JazzTimes: Chick, the name of your latest project, Origin, suggests originality, beginnings, it even suggests the Creator. How does this particular band represent all or part of those elements for you?
Chick: Every artist is a creator and that’s the basic thing that we all rely on, is our creativity, and that was one of the ideas behind the name. But the name is not that important, I named the first record that and people like to put a name on everything. Roy calls his group the Hip Ensemble, so I called my group Origin.
JazzTimes: Since Origin is an acoustic band playing original music, and there is certainly plenty of precedent for that in your discography, does Origin represent a back to the future musical approach?
Chick: I’m going to leave that up to you to figure out when you listen to it. My approach is to just take everything I know and love to do musically and put it into one band. This time I got a slightly larger group because I wanted to be able to have the sound and the colors—to be able to orchestrate stuff. I have three horns: Steve Wilson and Bob Shepard playing saxophone, and Steve Davis playing trombone. Both Steve and Bob play other winds, flutes; Shepard plays bass clarinet and Steve plays soprano sax, so I used all the different instruments to create a small orchestra kind of feel.
JazzTimes: How did Origin come together?
Chick: I produced a record for Stretch Records [his label] with the bass player in my band, Avishai Cohen, and the band that he recorded with had Steve Wilson and Steve Davis I really loved the way they played. I asked them all to come up to Schenectady to try out some charts that I had written, and the band kind of clicked very nicely. I was hot to travel and play my new music, so we just started booking gigs, making records, and creating. We did a week at the Blue Note and from that week at the Blue Note I got an agreement with Concord Records to put out a 6-CD boxed set. We’re going to put out three complete nights live at the Blue Note.
JazzTimes: In closing, is there anything either of you would like to say about your partnership and relationship?
Roy: I would like to thank Chick for the period when I put out the Hip Ensemble, either ’69 or ’70, when Chick was living in Queens and I rehearsed at his house. Our first gig was at a place in New York called The Scene, and Chick came down there opening night. I want to thank Chick for allowing me to rehearse in his house. Chick, maybe you should talk about the cymbal you came to my house to borrow, the flat ride cymbal I had when you started Return To Forever.
Chick: That cymbal is sort of a symbol of our relationship. [Laughs] It was one of the first flat ride cymbals the Paiste company made and it was really an unusual cymbal, thin with no bell and it had a particular timbre that was just different than other cymbals; you could smash it around and it wouldn’t be too loud, yet you always heard the rhythm in it. Roy used it with Stan’s band, then he used it on Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. That cymbal was used by Airto Moreira on my first Return To Forever album, and now that cymbal is being used by my current drummer [Adam Cruz]. I’m going to take it and get it duplicated.
Roy: Chick, you’re very inspiring.
Originally published in November 1998