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Epithets like "living legend" are often bandied about more for the purpose of hype than as a true reflection of some personality's true value to his or her particular profession and to the public in general. On the other hand, jazz drummer Roy Haynes fits the bill entirely.
Consider the facts. The man is 84-years-old and to somewhat paraphrase the biblical description of the 127-year-old Sarah's relatively young age, in terms of his physical health, zest for life and enthusiasm for his daytime job, Haynes is going on about 18.
Haynes was around close to the very birth of bebop and kept time for the likes of bebop founding fathers saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and pianists Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. He was first choice drummer for swing saxophonist Lester Young in the mid-'40s and subsequently joined Miles Davis' band.
And, there were the fruitful synergies with free jazz pioneer saxophonist John Coltrane, fusion proponent pianist Chick Corea, guitarist Pat Metheny and iconic singers Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. The list goes on and on, as one might expect considering Haynes has been at the very highest level of the business for over sixty years.
And Haynes has absolutely no problem "keeping up." For his double gig dates at the Zappa Club branches in Tel Aviv and Herzliya, he will perform with three musicians aged in their thirties and forties.
"When I play with [31-year-old saxophonist] Jaleel [Shaw], [48-year-old pianist Dave] Kikoski and [30-something bassist] David [Wong] we become the same age when we play, no one's thinking about our ages," says Haynes from his New York home during a brief stopover in his busy touring schedule.
Still, the drummer is aware of the legacy he represents and passes on to his younger cohorts. "They're learning and they, of course, know I have been one of the main guys around since back in the forties. The younger people want to be part of that. Hey, I played with Young, Parker, Coltrane, Louis Armstrong - for one week - and Billie Holiday. I am one of the important links, maybe one of the last links, with all of that."
While Haynes has lived and worked through so many musical stylistic shifts, for him it is all just music. "People tend to categorize you, but they can't really do that with me," he says. "I've played with [American rock band] the Allman Brothers and all kinds of singers but, basically, I'm just a swing drummer with other musical decoration."
As far as Haynes is concerned, there is no transition of mindset involved in drumming for a rock band as compared with Louis Armstrong. "One thing's a part of another," he states. "You just have to keep your ears open. With jazz it's not classical music, when you just read and play the notes. With jazz you've got to use your imagination too."
Haynes says the members of his current quartet keep each other on their toes. "We sometimes surprise each other. Stuff comes up that's not been planned. That's great. That keeps everything fresh, the way it should be. And these guys are hot, believe me."
As he came up during the halcyon days of the forties and early fifties, when jazz ruled the roost, one wonders how Haynes weathered the late fifties and sixties, when rock and roll and later pop and rock replaced jazz as the popular music forms. Were there any unavoidable artistic allowances made?
"I've never compromised, not to speak of," Haynes declares bluntly. "If someone tried to get me to compromise, I'd say to hell with them. I'm doing what I think is right." Considering he's been doing just that for over sixty years, it's hard to argue with that.
The Roy Haynes Quartet plays the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv on July 8 and the Zappa Club in Herzliya on July 9. Doors open at 7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. both evenings. For ticketing call (03) 767-4646.
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