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The Roy-alty of Mr. Haynes: An Appreciation of the Legendary Drummer on his 99th Birthday


We’re at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, digging Roy Haynes. It’s opening night of a week-long engagement for the octogenarian hipster and his Fountain of Youth quartet at this plush new Manhattan nightspot located in the current home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, an impressive facility that artistic director Wynton Marslias christened just three years ago. Marsalis affectionately refers to it as The House of Swing. And this night, with Haynes holding court, it is indeed that.

The room itself, perched five stories above Columbus Circle in the ritzy Time Warner Center, seats about 150, so it’s spacious as compared to the intimate and far more casual Village Vanguard, that historic subterranean space in the heart of Greenwich Village where Haynes has played countless times since the early ‘50s. He prefers the sound in the oddly triangular-shaped Vanguard, with its small stage, low ceiling, and carpeted wall directly behind the bandstand. At Dizzy’s, the stage is sprawling, the ceiling is high, and directly behind the bandstand is a glass wall providing patrons with a spectacular view of Central Park and Manhattan’s Midtown skyline all lit up at night. But no one’s looking out the window while Haynes is up there dealing.

We take seats at the bar directly adjacent to his sparkling Yamaha kit with copper-colored snare, eschewing the scenic view for a clear glimpse of his hands and feet, where we can closely watch the rhythmic maestro cutting up the beat and traversing the kit with his usual flair. From this side-stage vantage point, we can see him alternately feathering the bass drum and impulsively dropping bombs on a burning rendition of Charlie Parker's “Segment,” punching up the boppish proceedings with unpredictable accents here and there. We observe his audacious and wholly intuitive approach to the snare drum on Coltrane’s swinging “Mr. P.C.,” trying to spot some kind of pattern or system inherent in his playing. But it’s more like watching Sugar Ray Robinson bobbing and weaving and slipping punches in the ring while delivering lightning-quick jabs and intricate counterpunches.

We dig Haynes tippin’ on the hi-hat with his right hand while simultaneously playing the shell of his snare with the left hand behind an alto sax solo, and we instantly appreciate his old-school values. We dig his 6/8 African feel underneath his fresh arrangement of “My Heart Belongs To Daddy,” a show tune he recorded with Bird back in 1954. We watch him alternately bashing the snare and tattooing the ride cymbal on Chick Corea’s buoyantly swinging “Like This.” We catch him organically shifting from matched grip to traditional grip during a show-stopping solo, marveling at his masterful touch, his uncanny sense of dynamics, and the sheer command that he holds over each drum, each cymbal. We check the loose, flowing sense of independence he exhibits with all four limbs and are awestruck by the profound depth of his drumming prowess. (For a sample of Haynes’ unadulterated genius, check out his solo drum piece “Hippidy Hop” from 2006’s live, Grammy-nominated Whereas on Dreyfus Jazz and check out the audience reaction following that seven-minute excursion.)

All accomplished drummers orchestrate from behind the kit, but watching Haynes it becomes apparent that he’s a regular Toscanini of the skins. He shapes the sound of his band with an endless array of nuances and idiosyncratic accents, all kinds of embellishments and hip little fills that comprise the incredibly personal drum voice he has fashioned over the past 60-plus years. Suddenly, in the midst of this crackling set with his band of young charges — Jaleel Shaw on alto sax, Martin Bejerano on piano, David Wong on bass — the truth becomes crystal clear: Haynes is a tap dancer. He’s Fred Astaire on the snare, Honi Coles on the hi-hat, Jimmy Slyde on the ride, the Nicholas Brothers on toms, and Baby Laurence on the bass drum. He’s got that eternal bounce in his stroke, and at age 82 his catlike reflexes are still very much intact, as are his keen instincts on the bandstand.

"When I’m up there, that's my religion, and I try to give it my all. I don’t play that often anymore, I don’t want to. But when I do, I mean it. I don’t have no beats to waste, man.”

Hearing Haynes lead his Fountain Of Youth band through a sizzling set at Dizzy’s, he sounds as vibrant, inspired, ineffably swinging, and teeming with a spirit of joie de vivre as he did back in the 1940s playing on 52nd Street with Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. “We play this music from the heart, from the soul,” he tells the adoring audience, “so the world can hear it and love it and deal with it.” Everyone gets that message loud and clear.

Haynes unwinds backstage after another electrifying set. “I try to save everything for the bandstand," he says. “When I’m up there, that’s my religion, and I try to give it my all. I don’t play that often anymore, I don’t want to. But when I do, I mean it. I don’t have no beats to waste, man."

When told that his style has been called busy, Haynes replies, “Yeah, it is busy. But it’s like what Trane said about Wayne Shorter. Somebody said Wayne sounded like scrambled eggs and Trane said, ‘Yeah, but it's the way he’s scramblin’ those eggs!’ Of course, you just can’t play that way with everybody in order to make it work. But that’s how I like to play with my band. I like to be challenged by my young guys, and I like conversing with them on stage through our instruments. That’s really my style in a nutshell. It’s like talking to somebody. You listen and you respond. You don’t talk over somebody when you’re trying to have a conversation with them. It’s the same way with musicians on the bandstand, or at least it should be.”

A few days earlier, before his triumphant opening night at Dizzy’s, Haynes graciously opens up his Baldwin, Long Island home to a visitor for an interview. Upon entering his plush pad, I am immediately struck by the host of awards and trophies stacked on the mantle in his living room. There’s a Grammy Award for the 1988 all-star tribute album, Blues For Coltrane, alongside two glass obelisk-shaped awards from the Jazz Journalists Association — one naming him Drummer Of The Year for 2006 and the other a Lifetime Achievement Award from 2005. There’s a National Endowment For The Arts citation naming him an NEA Jazz Master for 1995. There’s also a citation from Downbeat for entering the magazine’s Hall Of Fame in 2004 and an award for being voted the top drummer in its 2006 International Critics Poll. Writers and fellow musicians have always dug what Haynes has put down.

In his basement, where he keeps a set of practice drums he hardly touches, hangs a huge framed portrait of his boyhood idol, Papa Jo Jones. It’s a vintage shot of the great drummer during his heyday with the Count Basie band, looking slick in full-length coat and sharp hat while flashing his sly, ever-present grin. On a nearby wall is a framed picture of Haynes and fellow Bostonian Tony Williams sharing a hearty laugh. On the floor are boxes and boxes of pictures, newspaper clippings, magazine articles and assorted memorabilia dating back to the ‘40s. “I’m going to have to organize this stuff one of these days,” he says.

Haynes gives me a tour of the rest of the house, all but the attic. In retrospect, I suspect there is a portrait of Haynes up there that has been turning increasingly old and ugly over the years. Because like the mythical Dorian Gray, Haynes remains eternally youthful-looking and impossibly vibrant, especially when he's behind the kit. It’s a mind-boggling feat to look and play so well at age 82. And yet, Haynes says it just comes naturally. He doesn’t attribute his miraculous condition to anything in particular — no special diet or exercise regimen, no extraordinary genes he may have inherited. “One woman said after hearing my band play at Newport last year, ‘You better check Roy Haynes for steroids!’” he laughs. Not an outrageous suggestion, actually. After all, he sounds better now, a fact to which many fellow musicians and scribes will attest, than he did 20 years ago. Perhaps the music itself is his fountain of youth.


Gus and Edna Haynes immigrated to the United States from Barbados during the 1920s, settling in Boston. “My mother and father met in church,” Haynes says. “My father was singing in the choir at the Mount Tabor Moravian Church. He was a good-looking, stylish guy, and he was into music.” Haynes was born on March 13, 1925. When he was two years old his father bought a house in the Roxbury section of Boston. “My father was a very independent man,” he recalls. “He was working at the Standard Oil Company at the time and was probably one of the first blacks to buy a house in that area. I remember in the backyard of the house there was this big pigeon coop, and in the front there was a lilac tree and a cherry tree. During April and May, man, it was beautiful around there.”

Haynes was only four years old when the stock market crashed in 1929, and so he hardly noticed the devastating effects of the Great Depression. “Growing up in that Roxbury section was very beautiful for me, because it was a mixed neighborhood,” he recalls. “Across the street was a Jewish synagogue; next door to us on the right was a Canadian family, and on the left were the Kellys, an Irish family. So I got a chance early in my life to be around all different types of people, and I’m sure that it’s helped me through my musical career in traveling all over the world and meeting people. I imagine it has.”

There was an organ in the dining room of his Roxbury home. “It had the pedals and the stops that you had to pull out and the whole thing, and my mother used to play it a lot,” he says. And though he doesn’t remember his parents having any records around, there was music in the household. “My father knew about all the popular music of the day — Al Jolson and all that. He used to sing all of those old songs around the house and also certain calypso tunes. So I grew up around that.”

Roy’s earliest visual drum reference came from a picture he saw of Duke Ellington’s great drummer Sonny Greer posing in front of his sprawling set. “He had timpanis and gongs and wooden blocks and all these other things piled up around the drum kit. That’s why Papa Jo nicknamed him Empire State, because his drums stood so tall, like the Empire State Building. And Duke’s band had a tune they played called ‘Ring ‘Dem Bells,’ which featured Sonny playing all that stuff. Yeah, Sonny made a big impact on me.”

Haynes was also greatly influenced by his two older brothers, Douglas and Vin. “Douglas was born in Barbados and was seven years older than me,” he says. “After he came out of the war he went to New England Conservatory, where he studied trumpet and theory. In fact, Cecil Taylor went to school with him. Douglas never really played professionally but he used to travel with bands as a roadie. He worked with Cab Calloway’s sister, Blanche Calloway, during the late ‘30s, early ‘40s. So he was always around musicians. Dizzy Gillespie knew him, Clark Terry knew him, all the musicians knew Douglas.” (It was Douglas who introduced Roy to his idol, Papa Jo Jones, at The Southland nightclub on Warrington Street in Boston.)

Haynes also got his first pair of drum sticks from his brother Douglas. “He may have played in a drum & bugle corps at school and he just gave them to me one day, long before I ever got a set of drums. And from the moment I picked them up, I was playing. I was drumming on everything around the house. I used to get the knives and forks and my mother’s dishes, lay them all out on the floor and play. I’d play the wall, I’d play on tin advertising signs I’d see on my way to school. So I had a feeling of wanting to be a drummer from a very early age. And I guess in those days you could say I was a natural drummer. When I would hear music, I would just deal with it.”

In the late 1930s, when Haynes was a teenager, jazz was everywhere. It was the sound of the times, popularized by the Benny Goodman and Count Basie bands. During these formative years, Roy listened religiously to an afternoon radio program called “The 920 Special,” named after a Count Basie tune. It's where he got his first exposure to the drumming of Papa Jo Jones. And although he was too young to get into any of the jazz clubs around town then, he would sometimes stand outside the clubs to soak up the swinging sounds. “In those days, all of our neighborhoods in all the cities throughout the country had clubs where they had jazz,” Roy recalls. “I could walk from my house to a place called the Swanee Grill, where they had jazz bands playing. I used to go stand in the door because I couldn’t go in. But I would listen to the bands. And I remember some of the songs that the saxophone players would sing and play. I also remember the pianist in one of those bands. Her name was Mabel Robinson. I’d listen to her sing. Later on when I was still a teenager, I worked with her and some of the same people I was listening to when I couldn't even go into the club.”

Haynes remembers acquiring his first drum kit purely by chance. “I never had access to a set of drums at all until I was a teenager,” he says. "I was hanging out with this group of guys from the neighborhood, and one of the guys came around late one night with a snare drum and some cymbals in a traps case, and he gave them to me. I didn’t ask him too many questions afterwards; I just took them. So that was my first kit. Didn’t even have a hi-hat, just some cymbals on a cymbal stand and a snare. And because I didn’t have enough money to buy a hi-hat, I went without one for a while.” His very first paying job was at a club in Bowden Square, the Italian section of Boston. “And because I didn't have a hi-hat, I’d grip the cymbal with the left hand with a stick in the right hand and open it and close it to get that kind of Papa Jo hi-hat beat. And the trumpet player used to say, ‘When are you going to get a hi-hat?’Because in those days you played the hi-hat behind a piano solo, sometimes behind a trumpet solo or a saxophone solo. Nowadays, you don’t play the hi-hat, you play the ride cymbal. But in that period, early ‘40s, a hi-hat was very important. Every drummer had to get that Papa Jo beat. That was the pulse of that time.”

“Every drummer had to get that Papa Jo beat. That was the pulse of that time.”

“I also loved Sid Catlett and Cozy Cole too. Cozy did something with Cab Calloway called Crescendo In Drums. I had that record and I used to listen to it over and over again. He didn’t swing like Papa Jo but he was very creative in his own way. And he actually got to be more popular for a period than Papa Jo. He and Gene Krupa had this drum school and Cozy also had a hit record at one time too. But all the drummers used to talk about Papa Jo. As great as Sonny Greer, Jimmy Crawford, Erskine Hawkins and those guys were, Jo Jones was our main guy. You should’ve seen him in the early ‘40s with Basie’s band before he went in the army. Just to watch Papa Jo with that band was really something to behold.”

Another big inspiration during Haynes’ formative years was Max Roach. As he told Ira Gitler in the book Jazz Masters Of The Forties: “A lot of Max rubbed off on me. When I first heard him, he had one cymbal, bass drum, snare, no tom-tom. He had his right hand on the cymbal, his left on the snare drum. At the time, the drummers weren’t playing on the 2 and 4. The bass drum was like another hand. Maybe guys didn’t have a tom-tom because they couldn't afford it, but I got rid of mine.”

As a teenager, Haynes quickly earned a reputation around Boston as one of the slickest drummers in town. “I felt right away like I could play,” he says. “And in Boston they had a lot of great drummers; drummers who people never heard of, but in Boston they were popular as hell. And during one period in the early ‘40s, I was the youngest working drummer in town. I had very good ears so I just went right to it. And it was often said that when bands would come from New York to play in Boston and they needed a drummer, it was always Haynes they asked for. There was another drummer who was a little older than me named Joe Booker. He could swing and he loved Papa Jo too. He worked a lot around town. And there was another drummer named Bobby Elliott who could put on a hell of a show. He would have just a snare drum and maybe one cymbal and maybe one tom-tom. I used to play in a small trio opposite him. We would play during intermission and then I’d watch him play those shows. He had good hands. Yeah, Boston had some great drummers. There were two of them that lived right on my street when I lived in Roxbury — Bobby Donaldson, who may have been a year or two older than me, and another gentleman named Herbert Wright. My father had me me take a couple of drum lessons from him; just learning some basic rudiments about playing two beats on each hand. When I watched that Jazz documentary that Ken Burns did, I think it was the second episode where he covered the bandleader James Reese Europe. It talked about how he was stabbed to death by his drummer. And when they said the drummer’s name, it blew my mind. It was Herbert Wright, the man who lived across the street from me!”

Teenaged Haynes gigged with alto saxophonist Pete Brown and also played behind the likes of Sidney Bechet and Pee Wee Russell during concerts put on by the Harvard Jazz Society. He also had a longstanding gig during his formative years in Boston with Frankie Newton’s big band. “During that time I had the reputation of being ‘that little guy who could swing,’” he recalls. “I heard that from Coleman Hawkins, Pete Brown…lots of people.” Eventually his reputation spread, and in September 1945, Luis Russell would send the 20-year-old drummer a one-way train ticket to New York to join his big band at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem.


Panamanian-born pianist/arranger/bandleader Luis Russell was raised in New Orleans, eventually leaving the Crescent City in 1925 to join King Oliver’s band in Chicago. Two years later, Oliver’s group relocated to New York, and by 1929 Russell was leading his own ten-piece band with New Orleans émigrés Henry “Red” Allen on trumpet, Albert Nicholas on clarinet, George “Pops” Foster on bass and Paul Barbarin on drums. He also boasted potent soloists in trombonist J.C. Higginbotham and alto saxophonist Charlie Holmes. Russell’s group backed fellow New Orleanian Louis Armstrong on a memorable 1929 session that included an appropriately earthy rendition of “St. Louis Blues.” Armstrong virtually took over the outfit in 1935, and for the next eight years it functioned primarily as Satchmo’s backing band. Then in 1943, Russell split from Armstrong and began a five-year tenure at the Savoy Ballroom, where the big band played primarily for dancers. Haynes joined at the peak of the band’s popularity.

“Luis Russell was quite a guy, quite a bandleader,” Haynes says. “Now, here’s a man who never met me before hiring me. Charlie Jones, who played with me during the war and later on in Connecticut, told Luis Russell about me. At the time Luis tried contacting me, I was working a summer job in Cape Cod at Martha’s Vineyard. And in those days we had two musician unions, a black and a white. The union that I belonged to was Local 535 on Massachusetts Avenue. The union people knew where I was working, so when Luis Russell sent this special delivery letter from New York to the Boston local, they forwarded it to me at Martha’s Vineyard. In the letter he told me how much he would pay me for the gig. Naturally, that inspired me. So I came to town and actually ended up staying at his house for a couple months, until his young wife got tired of seeing me sleeping in the living room and coming in at sunrise after hanging out all night on 52nd Street. But I was 20 years old and New York was very exciting in those days. So Luis put up with me for a couple months because he believed in me. I could swing and I could play with the big band. So it turned out to be quite a valuable experience for me.” (A 20-year-old Roy Haynes can be heard playing “Boogie In The Basement,” “1280 Jive” and “Luke The Spook” on the Classics label recording, Luis Russell 1945-1946).

Haynes says that while Russell didn’t give much guidance to the young drummer during his two-year tenure with the band, he did give Haynes one key piece of advice that he took to heart. “I remember him telling me one time, ‘If you ever get lost, time-wise, in a composition, just roll. If you roll, it has no time signature, it has no meter, it’s just space.’ That’s the only thing I remember him telling me and I use that to this day. I like to keep the time feel loose enough so it can go anywhere or it can be any time signature when you play that. So I started playing that way a lot in Luis’ band and that later came in handy playing in Coltrane’s band. A lot of musicians are not comfortable with that style of drumming. They want to hear a drummer giving you a definite 2 and 4. I never played a heavy bass drum on 2 and 4 like that — I always let it flow. So my style was being created during that whole time that I was playing at the Savoy in Luis Russell’s band. And in fact, my brother told me that I changed the sound of that band. And I’ve heard that a lot since. I’ve heard a lot of younger musicians come up and say, ‘Man, when I played with Roy Haynes, I played some shit that I never played before.’”

“Musicians come up and say, ‘Man, when I played with Roy Haynes, I played some shit that I never played before.’”

One other bit of advice that Russell did impart to Haynes during his impressionable first year in New York pertained to the colorful bebop singer-entertainer and hustling raconteur Babs Gonzalez. “One day I saw Babs in front of the Savoy in Boston on Massachusetts Avenue and Luis Russell told me, his exact words: ‘Stay away from that guy.’ Later on I recorded with Babs and played some gigs with him and J.J. Johnson at a joint in Newark. Babs was originally from Newark so he was able to hook up all kinds of gigs there. I used to see Babs a lot when he was staying at the Douglas House on St. Nicholas Avenue. Nat King Cole had lived there. Helen Humes had the basement apartment with a grand piano in there and we would rehearse with Babs. A whole lot of famous black artists lived up there on top of Sugar Hill in Harlem. And as I got to know him better, Babs would show me a few of his tricks, like the one where he would have this handkerchief tucked in his coat pocket with black pepper in there. If he ever got into an altercation on the street, first he’d throw the pepper in their eyes and then hit em across the head with a Coca-Cola bottle. That’s some old-time street shit. But that was Babs, man. One time he came by my house when I lived on 149th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway, and he said, ‘I got a gig downtown at a place called O’Connor Hall on 5th Avenue. If you give me two [meaning two dollars], I’ll give you the gig. If you don’t, I’ll get Klook [Kenny Clarke]. So I gave him the two dollars and he gave me the address of where the gig was. I took the train down there with one of my buddies to check the place out, and when we got there — no such address. And that’s when I thought, ‘Oh, so that’s what Luis Russell was talking about!’”


Two years after he joined Luis Russell’s big band at the Savoy Ballroom, Haynes joined Lester Young’s group at the same place. The gig, as it turned out, was his audition. “I knew Lester was a very sensitive player, and here I am considered by some to be one of the hard boppers — dropping bombs and all of that. But we were playing for dancers back then so when I got with Pres, I just played the beat. The feeling was there, and after two or three numbers, he slipped over to the drums and whispered, ‘You sure are swinging. If you got eyes, the slave is yours.’ ‘Slave' meant job. Pres had all the greatest slang, his own language. And you had to learn his language to understand what he was talking about.”

In Lesterese, “Bing And Bob” were the police, a “hat” was a woman, and a “needle dancer” was a heroin addict. To “be bruised” was to fail and “startled doe, two o’clock” meant that a pretty girl with doe-like eyes was seated on the right side of the audience. He called everyone, regardless of gender, “Lady.” And when he wanted to hear a bass solo he’d turn to the upright player and say, "Put me in the basement!” To Lester Young, a “tribe” was a band, a “Molly trolley” was a rehearsal, and “Can Madam burn?” meant “Can your wife cook?” Haynes remained in Young’s band for two years. “The only reason I left in 1949 was because he went with Norman Granz on the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour without his band. But by that time, I had been going down to the Three Deuces, playing with Miles and Bird and Bud Powell and everybody, and also sitting in at Minton’s Playhouse on Monday nights. Minton’s ended up being a very important meeting place for us musicians. And when a musician sat in, the place would give him free food. It was a great place.”

By the time Lester Young finished the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, Haynes was already a familiar face on 52nd Street on the bandstand with Bird and Bud and others. “I was in another dimension, so to speak, playing with those cats. So I didn’t go back with Lester Young. But for two years, man, it was enjoyable. I learned a lot from Pres.”

After Miles Davis quit Charlie Parker’s band around Christmas 1948, the trumpeter put together his own band for the first time, which included Tadd Dameron on piano, Nelson Boyd on bass and Haynes on drums. By October 1949, Haynes joined Parker’s group at the Three Deuces and later became the first drummer to work at Birdland when it opened in November 1949. “When I played with Bird, the drums seemed to play themselves,” he says. During this highly productive period, he appeared on Bud Powell’s first Blue Note recording (1949’s The Amazing Bud Powell) and also recorded key sessions in 1951 for Prestige with tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray (Tenor Sax) and trombonist Kai Winding (Modern Jazz Trombones). But between 1949 and 1951, Haynes became acknowledged on 52nd Street as Bird’s main man on drums.

“Miles used to say that Bird stole his drummer,” laughs Haynes. “When I started with Miles we played at a place in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn called Soldier Meyer’s and we must’ve stayed there a couple of weeks at least. From there we went to the Orchid Room, which was on 52nd Street across from the Three Deuces, where Bird was playing. The band there was Miles’ rhythm section without Miles, and with Sonny Stitt playing alto. Stitt was really burning on alto then, not tenor. He sounded like Sonny Stitt but with a lot of Bird influence, and with his own smooth sound. And that rhythm section was burning. So Charlie Parker would often come over to the Orchid Room during his intermission and hear us play. Meanwhile, Max Roach, who was the king in Brooklyn, was getting ready to leave Bird to get a gig himself at Soldier Meyer’s in Brooklyn. So he came over and asked me if I would take his place with Bird. But I was having so much fun playing with Sonny Stitt and the place was packed because Billy Eckstine was the headliner and he was really hot then. Everybody was at that club: musicians, pretty ladies, the whole 52nd Street atmosphere. So when Max asked me if I would take his place with Bird, I told him I was happy where I was. A few nights later, Charlie Parker came over himself and asked me if I would come into his band, and I said yes.”

“So that was a hell of a period for the music and everything,” he continues. “We were all making like $20 a night at the clubs, even on 52nd Street. The leader would get $40, sidemen would get $20. We didn’t think about it, you know? Shit, that was beautiful, man. We were playing five sets a night and 52nd Street was alive. That’s when I joined Bird. And Max Roach said many, many years later, ‘Roy Haynes took my gig with Bird and didn’t give it back!’”

Haynes ended up playing on several important Parker recordings, including 1949s South Of The Border, an historic Charlie Parker With Strings session recorded live at Carnegie Hall on September 17, 1950, and a live Bird At St. Nick’s from the same period. In 1951, Haynes also appeared on a string of Afro-Cuban/Afro-Caribbean tunes that Parker recorded, including the lilting, calypso-flavored hit “My Little Suede Shoes,” the Cuban “Un Poquito de tu Amor” and the Latin-tinged “Tico Tico.”

While 52nd Street was hopping, Harlem was also thriving in the early ‘50s. “New York was beautiful in 1953,” Haynes says. “Harlem was like Paris — I mean, people were dressed up. They had a bar named after Sugar Ray Robinson. All the sporty people — boxers like Joe Louis and Ezzard Charles, other sports stars — would come to the gigs. Birdland was open, Broadway was a two-way street then; it wasn’t one-way like it is today. Cars went up and down Broadway then. And Harlem…oh my god! Beautiful people, every place was elite, fancy hotels. We had everything there, man! You had Minton’s, Clark Monroe’s Uptown House and Count Basie’s place on 132nd and 7th Avenue. There was Bell’s on 149th and Broadway, run by two brothers from East St. Louis, Bob and George Bell. Miles used to live at their house and that’s when he wrote the song ‘Sippin’ At Bells.’ Then nearby was Lucky’s, a club run by the stride pianist Lucky Roberts. Tatum and Fats Waller used to hang out there. It was something to be in Harlem at that time, man. The old-timers used to say, ‘I wouldn’t leave Harlem to go to heaven.’ That’s how slick it was, all day and night.”

“It was something to be in Harlem at that time, man. The old-timers used to say, ‘I wouldn’t leave Harlem to go to heaven.’ That’s how slick it was.”

“People were cooking real food without this new, tricky modern boxed shit that you got today,” he reminisces. “You could go into any little greasy spoon place and them motherfuckers be makin’ biscuits from scratch. There was so much love and so much togetherness in Harlem back then. And it was the same way in every major city in the country — Pittsburgh, Chicago, D.C., Philly, Boston, Baltimore, Detroit. There were all kinds of jazz clubs and great restaurants in the black communities where you could get home cooking and hotels in all of these cities. It was a total cultural experience, but that’s all gone now. Today, people just go to the mall. There’s no sense of community anymore like there was in Harlem back in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

“Downtown was swinging too,” he continues. “The subway was a nickel, and clean. You could walk through Central Park at night. Sometimes we would just walk uptown, maybe with some chicks. Oh, it was so beautiful, man! Clean, and there was no threats. People uptown with their convertibles, top down, chicks driving, everybody dressed up. You had lines outside of Birdland for the shows every night. And in those days you could stay all night. It wasn’t a ‘per show’ thing. You could come at 9:30 and stay ’til 4:00 a.m. and hear all the different bands. This was New York in those days. And when I hear bebop music today, it takes me back to those days when everything was swinging.”

While Haynes misses those great clubs and all the great music, he also misses the humor that was very much a part of the jazz scene in New York City back in the late '40s and early ‘50s. “All of them older musicians — Roy Eldridge, Papa Jo, J.C. Heard, Bird — all of them older cats were very funny, very fast, very witty. They always had slick things to say. That was a hell of a period, man. There was so much prejudice in this country back then, but these cats would laugh through all of that.”

Appearance was also an important part of jazz back in the day. "All the cats from that period, they could dress, man," recalls Roy. ".Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins were stylish dressers. The guys my age like Miles, Kenny Pancho Hagood and myself could dress. We used to check a lot of people out by the knot in their tie, back in the days when we were wearing ties. You could tell what a person was about by the knot in your tie or the collar on your shirt. I've always been into corduroy pants, and the first time I met Miles on 52nd Street, this guy had on corduroy pants. Around 1951, I started getting custom-made suits at the Andover Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Certain guys would come to see what we were wearing during that period, always. And the ladies too. It was a lot of fun, man.”


In the summer of 1952, Haynes toured with Ella Fitzgerald. Then from 1953 to 1958, he became accompanist for Sarah Vaughan, a gig that demanded more restraint and less of his patented creative overplaying. “With certain people, you just can’t play too busy in order to make it work. I didn’t play that way with Sarah Vaughan all the time. I was very respectful, but some nights you could do a whole lot of stuff there. You didn’t have to play the song the same way. She’d be getting more of a kick out of it if you added or changed up on her. It was mostly a brushes gig — the old-school style of leading with the left hand and swirling with the right hand instead of the opposite way — though there were some tunes when I played with sticks and got down.”

Haynes appeared as a consummate accompanist on several important Emarcy recordings during his tenure with Vaughan, including 1955’s In The Land Of Hi-Fi, 1957’s Swingin’ Easy, and 1958’s live At Mister Kelly’s. One of Haynes’ motivations for touring with the popular singer for that five-year period was the promise of a steady paycheck. “I had young children and a mortgage and car notes and things like that. And that was one of the great things about that gig with Sarah — the money was always there. So I was able to continue playing the drums and still was a responsible family man. But I did stay there a bit long. It got a little too comfortable.”

After leaving his comfortable accompanist role with Sarah Vaughan, Haynes joined Thelonious Monk’s adventurous quartet in 1958, playing on the famous Live At The Five Spot album for Milestone Records. His mercurial style of drumming seemed perfectly suited to Monk’s rhythmic eccentricities. “Monk was tricky!” he says. “It was a challenge playing with him. Monk used to say most drummers could only play three tempos. He’d say, ‘If you take them out of those three tempos, they either bring it up or bring it down.’ But he seemed to like the way I played.”

That same year, 1958, Haynes recorded We Three, his Stateside debut as a leader for the Prestige/New Jazz label [He had already recorded a ‘split album’ with Quincy Jones in 1954 that was released on the Emarcy label in 1955 as Jazz Abroad]. This excellent trio outing features the technically dazzling pianist Phineas Newborn and the great bassist Paul Chambers and stands as a prime example of Haynes’ remarkably interactive approach to the kit and sheer panache in a piano trio setting. The three had been playing regular Monday nights at the Five Spot, where they established quite an immediate chemistry on the bandstand, with Haynes eagerly responding to Newborn’s every slick filigree and Chambers walking insistently through the myriad of odd accents by the inventive drummer.

In 1960, Haynes recorded his second trio album for Prestige/New Jazz, Just Us (with pianist Richard Wyands and bassist Eddie DeHaas). That same year he played sideman on three significant, if wildly disparate, recordings — singer Etta Jones’ Don’t Go To Strangers, avant-garde saxophonist Eric Dolphy’s Out There and Outward Bound, and soul icon Ray Charles’ landmark Genius + Soul = Jazz. The following year he began gigging and recording with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. “I remember playing Las Vegas with Stan Getz, opposite Gene Krupa,” he recalls, “and I would do a feature with Stan every night. The bass player in the band was Steve Swallow and one night he told me, ‘Every time you do your feature, Gene Krupa is sitting right in the front row digging it.’ And that amazed me. Here’s a guy they’re raving so big about, and he’s listening to me! Not saying that he was going to try and play what I play, but it just showed that he had that respect for a fellow drummer. Gene was such a humble, warm guy. Buddy Rich had a lot of beauty inside too. One of the last times I saw Buddy play was at the Loeb Student Center at New York University. Stan Getz happened to be in the audience that night, too.

“Monk used to say most drummers could only play three tempos... But he seemed to like the way I played.”

“Some of the guys in Buddy’s band knew I was in the audience. I got there a little late, right when Buddy was in the middle an incredible roll that was a solo in itself. Then he got up and was talking on the mic, acknowledging people who were in the audience. I think Jo Jones was there that night, too. So somebody in the band tells him Roy Haynes is here and he called me up. I, like a fool, went up there after this guy had just ripped the drums apart. Here’s a guy who could get a sound, man. He was bad! Another time, he said to me, ‘Let’s just hang out and go to a Yankees game or something.’ He was a beautiful guy. We had some words back in 1950 when I was playing with Bird, but this was years later and we had both gotten over that. So it was nice to have known this warm side of Buddy and to actually have counted him as a friend.”

In 1962, Haynes recorded his acclaimed Impulse! Records debut, Out Of The Afternoon. That brilliant quartet outing featured tenor saxophonist Roland Kirk (who at that time wasn’t yet using the tag ‘Rahsaan”), pianist Tommy Flanagan, and bassist Henry Grimes. Kirk is quoted in the original liner notes, written by Stanley Dance, praising Haynes: “I enjoy him so much. He plays so spontaneously and never holds you back from what you want to play. And he does more than lay a beat. I can hear him making those drums talk!” The session, recorded by Rudy Van Gelder during two days in May, features three Haynes originals, including “Long Wharf,” an uptempo ode to his Boston roots, and “Snap Crackle,” a phrase bassist Al McKibbon once aptly used to describe Haynes’ crisp drumming style. Haynes is pictured on the inside sleeve of this five-star album wearing a silk polka-dot tie and a slick custom-made pinstripe suit.

Between 1962 and 1963 Haynes recorded adventurous sessions with the likes of pianist Andrew Hill (Black Fire and Smokestack), alto saxophonist Jackie McLean (Destination Out!), pianist McCoy Tyner (Reaching Fourth), singer Jackie Paris (Song Is Paris) and organist Shirley Horn (Sweet Soul and Happy Talk). In 1963, his sense of sartorial splendor was acknowledged by Esquire magazine, which named Haynes one of the “Best Dressed Men In America” alongside the likes of Fred Astaire and Walter Pidgeon. The only other musician to be so honored by the magazine that year was Miles Davis. “Yeah, Miles and I both liked clothes,” says Haynes. “Clothes and cars. Miles and I both bought a new car the same week. We used to race through Central Park, and neither one of us had a driver’s license at the time. We was some wild cats back then.”

Around that same period, Haynes brought a stellar group into Slug’s for a week. “The band was Wayne Shorter, just before he went with Miles, me, Cecil McBee on bass and Albert Dailey on piano. We were really kicking ass.” On November 2, 1961, Haynes had subbed for Elvin Jones on a Village Vanguard gig with John Coltrane’s piano-less quartet featuring Eric Dolphy on alto sax and Reggie Workman on bass. That rare live date (which was recorded by engineer Van Gelder and later released in 1979 as part of the Impulse! two-fer, Trane’s Modes) featured Haynes playing Jones’ kit on an intensely kinetic 15-minute version of “Chasin’ Another Trane.” A year and a half later, on April 29, 1963, Haynes would go into the studio to record three tracks with Coltrane’s quartet for the Dear Old Stockholm album (released in 1993 on Impulse!). During the summer of 1963, Haynes appeared with Coltrane’s quartet, alongside pianist McCoy Tyner and bassist Jimmy Garrison, at a memorable Newport Jazz Festival performance on July 7, which Impulse! also recorded and later

released (in 1993) as Newport ’63. Haynes’ crisp polyrhythmic pulse and irregular bass drum and snare accents provide a different kind of flow to the group than Jones’ more heavy-handed rolling thunder approach to the kit. As Coltrane himself explained to Downbeat writer Don DeMichael: “There’s a difference between them. Elvin’s feeling is a driving force. Roy’s is more of a spreading, a permeating. They’re both very accomplished. You can feel what they’re doing and get with it.” And as Haynes told DeMichael: “When I worked with Trane, the intensity was so high…it stayed high. So I stayed with the intensity. I didn’t necessarily play differently than I would normally play but John’s solos were longer, and I didn’t want to play the same thing throughout his solo, so I’d have to think of more things and get ideas from what he was playing. When I’m with Trane, I don’t want to let him down. I want to keep him inspired.”

Two years later, on May 26, 1965, Haynes was back in the studio with Coltrane’s quartet, recording sensitive renditions of “After The Crescent” and “Dear Lord,” along with a scorching 15-minute blowout on “One Up, One Down,” which features some scintillating breakdowns between Coltrane’s tenor and Haynes’ drums. “That one is the motherfucker of all time,” says Haynes with a hint of pride at that milestone in his fabled career.


By the mid ‘60s, Haynes began to push the stylistic envelope on a number of ambitious projects. One was an experimental 1966 recording with vibraphonist Gary Burton called Tennessee Firebird, which fused jazz improvisation with rock rhythms and country/bluegrass stylings, courtesy of guitar great Chet Atkins, fiddler Buddy Spicher and pedal steel guitarist Buddy Emmons. While that RCA recording only hinted at the fusion movement to come, Burton’s 1967 follow-up, Duster, is widely considered to be one of the seminal fusion outings. Recorded during the much-hyped “Summer Of Love,” it features nods to the burgeoning hippie movement with Larry Coryell on guitar and Steve Swallow on bass.

In 1968, Haynes would appear on Chick Corea’s brilliant piano trio offering Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. Featuring Miroslav Vitous on bass, it is a remarkable example of highly interactive trio playing harkening back to We Three, Haynes’ own piano trio outing from ten years earlier. The drummer’s extended solo on the 14-minute “Steps” is a particularly compelling statement of brilliantly crafted melody, rhythm, texture and musicality on the kit. And his lightly swinging touch on the lively “Now He Beats The Drums, Now He Stops” is a classic example of his quintessential snap-crackle approach. (Corea, Vitous and Haynes would re-create their chemistry on two excellent reunion albums on the ECM label, 1981’s Trio Music and 1984’s Trio Music: Live in Europe.) “My relationship with Chick goes back to the Stan Getz band,” Haynes says. “But when we did Now He Sings, Now He Sobs — oh, man! I never expected it to cause so much commotion. That record is considered a classic now. I go all over the world now and people still bring up that album. I’m sure it’ll live on forever. And of course, my big contribution to the sound of that recording was my [Paiste] flat ride cymbal. That’s what I had used on that session and there was a lot of talk about it afterward. That caught a lot of ears of a lot of drummers back then.”

Haynes felt an instant connection with Corea on that landmark session. “I think one of the connections that we have is Monk and Bud Powell. I played with Monk way back when I was young. We used to jam at Minton’s in Harlem and I played with him at the Five Spot. I also jammed with Bud Powell at Minton’s and I used to go by Bud’s house back in 1946-1947. And Chick loves those guys, so we had that in common. The other thing about Chick is he’s got a built-in drummer inside of him. His whole approach to the piano is very percussive, and he also actually plays the drums really well. I remember when I went to his home in California, the first thing you saw when you walked into his house was a set of drums. He loves the drums, so we have that in common too. So there’s a strong relationship there with Chick that’s been going on since the ‘60s.”

“But the thing is, I never did stop playing. And I never will. I’m married to the drums. I’ll always be playing.”

During this highly creative period of searching and transition, Haynes would also record with avant-garde icons Pharoah Sanders (1969’s Jewels Of Thought and 1970’s Thembi) and Archie Shepp (1969’s The Way Ahead). It was around this time that Haynes formed his Hip Ensemble, a contemporary outfit that reflected the sound and style of the times. Says the bandleader, “I had George Adams on sax, Charles Sullivan started on trumpet, then I had Hannibal [Marvin Peterson] on trumpet. On bass I had Teruo Nakamura, then Clint Houston for a while. Cedric Lawson was on electric piano, then he left me to go with Miles. He was a very eccentric character. He would go to Japan and he’d be in the corridors in the hotel with no clothes on. Miles eventually had to let him go. He went to Chicago with me one time and there was an electric piano and regular piano at the gig. And one night Jimmy Smith came down, so Jimmy played the electric piano and Cedric played the other piano. They started trading fours and eights and everything, and Cedric got up and started walking, dancing on the piano. So the club owner said, ‘Man, don’t ever bring that guy back here!’ He played good and was a nice writer, a nice guy — just a little eccentric.”

Haynes augmented his regular kit with timpani for his Hip Ensemble and recalls that the band’s first gig was at The Scene, an acid rock palace frequented by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton and other rock icons of the day. “I was living in Queens at the time nearby where Chick Corea had bought a place. And for some reason I started rehearsing at his house. Anyway, he came down to our gig on opening night at The Scene and after the first set he said, ‘Man, you can really put together a band.’ That was when he was still playing in Miles’ band, before he put together Return to Forever.”

Through the remainder of the ‘70s, Haynes continued to record with a wide variety of jazz artists, including organ great Jimmy Smith, pianists Hampton Hawes, Hank Jones and Randy Weston, alto sax star Art Pepper and trumpeter Dizzy Reece, an inventive player who hailed from Kingston, Jamaica, but had been in the New York scene since 1959. As a leader, Roy released two records in 1977 on the Galaxy label — Vistalite featuring pianist Stanley Cowell and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, and Thank You Thank You featuring pianist George Cables, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Ron Carter and tenor saxophonist John Klemmer. It would be nine more years before Haynes would record again as a leader. During this lull, he felt like a forgotten man. “But the thing is,” he points out, “I never did stop playing. And I never will. I’m married to the drums. I’ll always be playing.”

By the mid ‘90s, Haynes would enjoy a remarkable resurgence of his career, presiding as revered bandleader over a new generation of Young Lions.


Haynes’ 1986 album, True Or False, signaled a return of sorts by the great drummer who, at the time of that potent recording (captured live at the Magnetic Terrace in Paris with his working quartet of David Kikoski on piano, Ralph Moore on tenor sax, and Ed Howard on bass), was 61 years old. Haynes is in his element here, alternately embracing ballads and swinging his ass off on classic jazz fare by Duke Ellington (“In A Sentimental Mood”), Charlie Parker (“Big Foot”), Thelonious Monk (“Played Twice”), Wayne Shorter (“Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum”), Sonny Rollins (“The Everywhere Calypso”), along with the quintessential swing-era jam vehicle, “Limehouse Blues.”

Jazz guitar star Pat Metheny, who had championed Haynes in various interviews, later recruited the great drummer and bassist Dave Holland for his intimate trio recording, Question And Answer, which was released in 1990 on the Geffen label. It features Haynes playing on Metheny’s jaunty “H&H,” which is the final word in swinging, alive-through-every-bar drumming. In fact, the drums are so present throughout that session (recorded on December 21, 1989, at the Power Station in New York) that he nearly steals the show, though it was undoubtedly Metheny’s intent as producer to focus more attention on Haynes’ intuitive genius by putting the drums so far up front in the mix. As Metheny states in the liner notes to that superb outing: “To me, Roy is the father of modern drumming. He’s always coming up with something, every bar, every note. He's one of the busiest drummers I’ve ever played with, but it never gets in the way.”

Perhaps Haynes’ restlessly creative drumming never got in the way on Question And Answer due to Metheny’s musical empathy. Haynes explains, “It was nice playing with Pat. He’s really very understanding. You know, when somebody understands what you’re trying to do, it really helps you to be yourself on the bandstand. And I was not the run-of-the-mill type drummer, you know. So when you get a great artist like Pat, who can cope with that and understand that, it definitely helps you out a lot. I’ve been fortunate that way in my career, to have played with people who seemed to pick up on what I'm trying to say. Pat understands me that way because he was hip to me when I had some of my early bands playing in the Roxbury section of Boston at Connolly’s. One time he mentioned that he used to check me out there back around ’73-’74. And then I was also checking him out in Boston when he had that trio with the bass player that was from Florida [Jaco Pastorius]. So we didn’t even know each other, but we were still sort of connected, I found out later. And that makes for a lot of understanding on the bandstand. I had an old, wise person say to me many, many years ago, ‘Understanding is one of the greatest things in life.’ And I think about that a lot. That can keep a whole lot of things together: marriages, nations, bands, everything."

It was Metheny who actually came up with the clever title of Haynes’ next recording as a leader, 1992’s When It’s Haynes It Roars (his debut on Dreyfus Jazz). The guitarist subsequently appeared in the lineup on the drummer’s 1994 follow up, Te Vou!, which also featured longtime sideman Dave Kikoski on piano, Donald Harrison on alto sax and a young Christian McBride on bass. Together they tackled Corea’s “Like This,” Metheny’s “James,” Ornette Coleman’s “Trigonometry” and Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle” (tunes that Haynes continues to play in concert with his Fountain Of Youth band). That same year, Haynes received Denmark’s prestigious JazzPar Award, a sort of Nobel Prize for jazz, marking his worldwide acceptance as a true jazz master as well as the uncrowned king of drums.

In 1997, old friend and collaborator Chick Corea recruited Haynes for his all-star Remembering Bud Powell project, which included trumpeter Wallace Roney, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, rising tenor sax star Joshua Redman and bassist McBride. That release was followed by a whirlwind tour of Europe, Japan and the States, further spreading the word far and wide that Haynes, at age 72, was still very much on top of his game.

Roy continued to amaze on his next recording, 1998s Praise, which pictures him on the cover posing in front of his futuristic-looking Brickland car, which appears to have wings. The back cover captures the drummer looking jaunty and hip as ever in his shiny satin suit, playing on a single cymbal with a couple of sticks.

Haynes closed out the ‘90s with a magnificent self-titled piano trio recording with Danilo Perez and bassist John Patitucci that recalls the hipness and spontaneous combustion of his great trio outing We Three and Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. Four of the tracks were recorded live at Sculler Jazz Club in front of Haynes’ hometown crowd.

Accolades and awards continued as Haynes passed the three-quarters-of-a-century mark. And Roy continued to put a premium on quality and swinging on the bandstand with his young rising star sidemen. At the time, he told a reporter, “Some critics say, 'Why don't you get guys to play with you who are on your own level?’ But they didn’t say that to Bird or Pres when I was in my twenties and playing with them. Young guys inspire me. That’s why I like to play with them.”

Haynes’ 2001 Charlie Parker tribute record, Birds Of A Feather, was hailed a highwater mark in his illustrious career. Recorded at age 76 with bassist Dave Holland, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett and pianist Kikoski, it earned Haynes a Grammy

Award nomination. That same year, he reunited with Corea and Vitous to participate in the pianist’s ambitious Rendezvous In New York, a multi-disc career retrospective recorded live at the Blue Note nightclub. And the following year, in December of 2002, Haynes recorded his own live outing (in the midst of a terrible snowstorm) at the Birdland nightclub. Entitled Fountain Of Youth, it earned him another Grammy nomination and helped catapult the great drummer into Downbeat’s Hall of Fame that year.

Haynes continued the live formula on 2006’s Whereas, which was recorded over the course of three nights at the Artist’s Quarter in St. Paul, Minnesota, during “Roy Haynes Weekend” (officially declared by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman). Said the unstoppable octogenarian at the time of its release, “I’m one of the last innovators from the '40s who’s still out there saying something new.” And he continues to do that on the bandstand night after night with his Fountain Of Youth band.


Back at home, after his week at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Haynes is chilling, looking very much like the ageless wonder that he is. “I can’t believe I’m coming up on 83 next year,” he laughs. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s my diet. I stopped eating pork a long time ago. I haven’t eaten anything like ribs in ages. I still eat meat sometimes, but not too much. I eat chicken, fish… sometimes I’ll eat a steak once in a while. But these days every fucking thing you eat will kill you, so you never know.

“But I feel great,” he continues. “And I’m still excited about playing. Every time I got a gig coming up, I get anxious like a little kid. And then when we hit, I’m really in my element. That’s when I feel best, when I’m up there with my guys, challenging them and communicating with them and just swinging and trying to make the people feel good too.”

Whatever his secret, the amazing Mr. Haynes is clearly enjoying his current renaissance. Accolades, awards and gigs seem plentiful now after decades of playing in the shadows of such drumming greats as Papa Jo Jones, Cozy Cole, Sid Catlett, Max Roach, Buddy Rich, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones. And his label, Dreyfus Records, gives much respect to the venerable jazz drummer in promoting his current releases (including an upcoming three-CD career retrospective  entitled Life in Time: The Roy Haynes Story, which includes important sideman dates with the likes of Bird, Bud, Miles, Monk, Trane and Sarah as well as key tracks culled from his fertile 13-year period as a bandleader recording for Dreyfus).

It’s an incredible journey that Haynes has been on since his teenage days in Boston. And he looks forward to making more potent, swinging contributions to the music for some time to come. As he coyly told an audience of musicians, writers and industry types who convened at the recent Jazz Journalists Association awards banquet when Roy accepted his Drummer Of The Year award: “Thank you, thank you. I appreciate this. And I’d like to come back and win it again next year.”

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