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The Gig: Haynes, His Way

Fifty years ago, a United States Senator named John F. Kennedy delivered a speech to mark the first anniversary of a Hungarian student uprising against Communist rule. Noting ruefully that the subsequent revolution had failed, he issued an exhortation: “So let us remember the living as well as the dead.” Kennedy was paraphrasing Lincoln, a senatorial practice that hasn’t gone out of style, judging by our current campaign season. The draft of the speech preserved at his presidential library shows a line drawn through a similar lead-in clause: “Let us look to the future, and not alone to the past.”

It may seem a stretch, but I bear these mandates in mind as I salute the late Max Roach, who is beautifully eulogized two pages preceding this one by Gary Giddins, with an appreciation of Roach’s vital contemporary Roy Haynes. I happened to be speaking with Haynes a few days before Roach’s death, and so the notion was already on my mind in August, when I attended the bebop hero’s majestic funeral at the Riverside Church in New York. There I took note of a pertinent quip in “Digging Max,” a poem by Amiri Baraka reprinted in this issue on page 38. It came during a litany of epithets for Roach, when Baraka dropped one in particular-“Roy Haynes’ inventor”-that elicited chuckles among the crowd. I had to wonder whether Haynes, one of many legends in the pews, felt the slightest sting.

Let’s hope not. Haynes, who at 82 is just a couple of years Roach’s junior, has long acknowledged his debt, along with the fact that he was a pace or two behind in the bebop revolution. But he and Max shared some important influences, notably Papa Jo Jones, and contributed to some of the same jazz landmarks. Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk got something special from them both, as did Bud Powell; pick up a recent reissue of The Amazing Bud Powell, Volume One (Blue Note) and you’ll hear each drummer propelling half the tracks. And their careers, though dissimilar in many ways, stand together as prime illustrations of jazz’s modern imperative, which resembles the thought that Senator Kennedy crossed out in one speech but expressed later in many others.

Consider A Life in Time: The Roy Haynes Story, a three-disc set released by Dreyfus in October, with tracks drawn from across the drummer’s roughly 60-year discography. Parker, Monk and Powell appear alongside Lester Young, with whom Haynes made an early impact, and Sarah Vaughan, with whom he made a decent living. (He once told me that he took that gig because he had a family to support, a fact that in no way diminishes the artistry of Vaughan. His tenure with the great singer may have hindered his career somewhat, but it imparted invaluable lessons too.) The new set touches upon Haynes’ work with trailblazers Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy and Jackie McLean. And it includes two tracks from Ray Charles’ Genius + Soul = Jazz (Atlantic), one from Oliver Nelson’s Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse!) and one from Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Blue Note)-three monumental albums, each hip in its own way.

Haynes has probably been as much of an influence on other drummers as Roach was, though he didn’t incite as seismic a shift. When I first interviewed the late Elvin Jones a decade ago, he recalled discovering bebop on record while serving in the Army: “[I heard] Max Roach and some Roy Haynes, who was at that time at his very early stages, but I thought he was a tremendous drummer, and he certainly piqued my curiosity.” Naturally A Life in Time documents Roy filling in for Elvin at the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival, on a startlingly distinctive rendition of “My Favorite Things.” (In his book Visions of Jazz, on Oxford, Giddins deftly pinpoints the difference: “Where Jones superimposes three over two, Haynes thinks two even when he’s playing three.”)

Among the successive generation of percussionists, Haynes would leave his mark on Tony Williams, who shared his Boston connection, and Jack DeJohnette, whose first album as a leader, The DeJohnette Complex on Fantasy in 1968, featured Haynes on a tune pointedly titled “Papa-Daddy and Me.” (That’s on the box set too.) And of course there are younger examples, like Bill Stewart. For a clear illustration of that lineage, try comparing two trio renditions of guitarist Pat Metheny’s postbop waltz “Question and Answer,” released a decade apart: first from his 1990 Geffen release of the same name, with Haynes, and then on the 2000 Warner Bros. album Trio Live, with Stewart. It’s not just that Stewart preserves Haynes’ chattering hi-hat and snare figure during the intro; it’s also the very pulse of the tune. Even at a point where Metheny channels Coltrane, the signal for most drummers to correspond by invoking Elvin, Stewart clings to his Haynesian propulsion. However hard he drives toward polyrhythm, the reference sticks.

It has often been noted that Haynes was long underappreciated, and thus under-recorded, as a bandleader. He made his first album as a leader in 1958-We Three (Prestige), with pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., and bassist Paul Chambers-and followed it up four years later with the more insistent Out of the Afternoon (Impulse!), featuring an inspired Roland Kirk on reeds. (Both albums are represented on the box.) There were only a few more solo releases before the 1990s, when Haynes hooked up with the Dreyfus label and started making up for lost time. His output for the label has been uniformly strong, with last year’s Whereas offering roughly as many high points as 1992’s When It’s Haynes It Roars. There have also been a couple of superb one-offs: for Verve in 2000 (with pianist Danilo Perez and bassist John Patitucci, not long before their first tour with Wayne Shorter) and Columbia in 2002 (the superlative Love Letters, actually made for the Japanese 88 label but licensed to Sony stateside).

During a handful of recent New York gigs with his Fountain of Youth band, Haynes proved he still has the crackle and bright panache that have made him such a force over the years. And he reconfirmed his knack for making a soloist sound sharper, doing for alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland what he used to do for Eric Dolphy and Stan Getz. Meanwhile his sound continues to spread: the Cuban drummer-bandleader Francisco Mela cites Haynes as his biggest influence, and you can hear it in his style.

Then there’s Marcus Gilmore, Haynes’ grandson, now in his early twenties. Without question he is one of the most gifted drummers of his generation, as he has shown so far on albums by alto saxophonist Steve Coleman, pianist Vijay Iyer and trumpeter Christian Scott, as well as his cousin, cornetist Graham Haynes. A few years ago he shared the stage with his grandfather at the opening gala for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall. And during what amounted to an intergenerational drum duel, Haynes didn’t pull any punches. Of course he didn’t; why would he start now?

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content for WBGO and a longtime contributor to JazzTimes, which published 125 installments of his column “The Gig” between 2004 and 2017. For 12 years, he was a critic for The New York Times; prior to that, he wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, the Philadelphia City Paper, and several other publications. He is the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century (2018) and the co-author of George Wein’s autobiography Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003).