When Roy Haynes was attending grammar school in his native Boston -- it's been an age -- a teacher once sent him to the principal's office because he couldn't stop drumming his fingers on the desk. Little did the authorities know: Soon the distracted imp in their midst would become one of the founding fathers of postwar jazz -- and would endure for six decades. In the late '40s, Haynes helped invent bebop in the company of Lester Young, Bud Powell and the legendary Charlie Parker. In the '50s, he backed the greatest jazz singers of all time -- Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. He recorded with the prince of cool, Miles Davis, toured with mysterious Thelonious Monk and, over the years, collaborated with three generations of jazz greats, from Louis Armstrong to Eric Dolphy to Chick Corea.
There's more: From 1961 to 1965, Haynes was John Coltrane's best-kept secret, a quieter alternative to regular drummer Elvin Jones, and the man the radical saxophonist turned to when he was searching for specific new colors and textures in his own work. "That was a very spiritual relationship," Haynes said last week. "I still think there was something in the back of John's mind about playing with me, some special connection. Some musicians said he played differently with me, found new sounds, and that's no criticism of Elvin. When I think about some of those Coltrane dates now, I still get tears in my eyes."
For instance, the seventeen-minute "My Favorite Things," that Haynes and Coltrane recorded at the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival, may be the most fluent version of that anthem ever captured by microphones, even though most of the audience had left the park halfway through the Coltrane quartet's post-midnight set.
So, has he done it all? Is this dynamo, the most melodic percussionist in the history of the music, prepared to vanish into the jazz archives? Don't bet on it. Because on the eve of his 76th birthday, Roy Haynes remains in thrall to his lifelong credo, which he adopted from the title of a classic Charlie Parker tune: "Now's the Time." "I've been on the road all my life," he said. "My whole life has been an improvisation, and there's no reason to stop now."
Most nights, the restless Haynes heads up his New York-based working quintet, composed of musicians one-third his age, and he usually wears them out. On Friday he will lead another young quintet into the Boulder Theater and pay homage to an old friend: Charlie Parker, the troubled musical genius who died, at 35, in 1955. But this return to Haynes's roots -- he began his three-year stint in the revolutionary alto saxophonist's band more than half a century ago -- is more than an exercise in nostalgia. Haynes's new CD, Birds of a Feather: A Tribute to Charlie Parker (Dreyfus), doesn't reiterate old bebop tropes so much as reinvent them -- and that's what the audience can expect in Boulder. On the CD, Haynes, alto man Kenny Garrett, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, pianist Dave Kikoski and bassist Dave Holland give Parker standards such as "Moose the Mooch" and "Yardbird Suite" a joyful, hard-bop edge that has catapulted the recording to the top of the jazz charts. Listed on nearly every jazz publication's top-ten list for 2001, Birds has earned Haynes his first-ever Grammy nomination and brought a new wave of appreciation to a musician who hasn't always gotten his due.
"I never expected the CD to be kickin' ass like it is," Haynes says. "But I've been very fortunate. A lot of great young players want to play with me. Because I've been there. They want to be part of the continuum. And if the best new musicians want to join you, then half the battle is won."
Truth be told, young lions appear to be lined up three deep on Roy Haynes's doorstep. For Friday's Boulder date, the celebrated New Orleans-born trumpeter Nicholas Payton replaces Hargrove, and bassist Christian McBride, another hyperactive new star, spells Holland, who's taking time off to be with his family.
Are the sidemen intimidated, either by the legend of Charlie Parker or the tireless demands of Roy Haynes?
"Not at all," the drummer answers. "Look at Kenny Garrett, for instance. He was with Miles Davis at the end, and he's a great student and admirer of Coltrane. These musicians also know and appreciate Charlie Parker, and they also understand how to approach his music. They're young enough to be my offspring, even my grandchildren, but you don't have to explain anything to them. They know."
Another thing they know is that Roy Haynes is the last of the bebop generation that produced Parker, Monk, Powell, Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown. From that era, bassist Ray Brown, drummer Max Roach and saxophonist Sonny Rollins are also still with us, but Haynes is the most energetic of that aging contingent. His prodding poly-rhythms and his dynamic shadings continue to evolve, and his faultless brush work remains the textbook on percussive subtlety. In the line of great modern-jazz drummers that runs from Kenny Clarke and Max Roach to Art Blakey and Billy Higgins (alas, now all dead) Haynes is the last of the patriarchs. Any young musician with a fleck of history in his head would jump at the chance to work with him. To play Charlie Parker's music with Haynes (and take side trips into such Parker-inflected classics as Cole Porter's "What is This Thing Called Love" or Vernon Duke's "April in Paris") is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
For his part, Haynes is clearly enjoying this new wave of adulation, but it's been a long time coming. In 1960, he points out, Down Beat magazine named him its first "Artist Deserving of Wider Recognition" (the same year Haynes and the famously dapper Miles Davis joined Fred Astaire and Walter Pidgeon on Esquire's list of best-dressed men), but it wasn't until 1996 -- when he was 71! -- that he won the jazz magazine's critics' and readers' polls as "best drummer." In Ken Burns's much-disputed PBS series, Jazz, Haynes's name was not even mentioned, despite his incredible resume. "I even played briefly in Louis Armstrong's big band," he says. "I'm more a part of this thing than I get credit for."
Winning a Grammy next month might dispel that grievance, though. Should that happen, Haynes already has his acceptance speech ready. Not surprisingly, he sings it: "When I was seventeeeeee-six, it was a very good year."
Another very good year for Roy Haynes was 1949. That's when Charlie Parker asked him to join the enterprise that was changing American music forever. The breakneck tempos and complex harmonics of bebop startled as much as excited the postwar world, and the frenetic new style transformed brilliant soloists like Parker and Gillespie into cultural icons and myth-laden heroes. On the opening night at Birdland, the legendary New York jazz club named in honor of Parker, Roy Haynes was sitting at the trap set when Parker called the first tune. More than half a century later, Haynes sometimes wonders how Bird might react to the old fires rekindling. "If he walked in the door while we were playing this, what would he think?" Haynes muses. "He'd probably give us one of those beautiful, mysterious smiles of his, and he might say: 'You've come a long way, young man.'"
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