Saturday, January 8, 2011

Grammys to Honor The Man: Roy Haynes

The annual Grammy Awards are a funny thing. Sometimes one wonders from what fishbowl they pulled out names to nominate for the awards. Sometimes real deserving folks win. But so much great music never any notice. And yet everyone would like one on their mantel, it only for the cachet.

But dammit if they didn’t do something right this year, selecting the masterful drummer Roy Haynes as a recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award. Formal acknowledgment comes at the 53rd Grammys shindig on Feb. 13 (broadcast on CBS starting at 8 p.m. Eastern). He will be among a group that includes Julie Andrews and Dolly Parton.

Haynes is a titan. One of the most influential and respected drummers ever. He’s still winning Drummer of the Year awards in the jazz community and his bands COOK, driven of course by his fluid, intense, polyrhythmic drumming. He’s played with all the great over time from Bird to Miles to Trane, to today’s current crop of jazz royalty. He is that royalty. His own groups, usually with musicians young enough to be grandsons, are always notable. On the cutting edge and hip as hell -- just like Roy.

[Photos © R.J. DeLuke. Top: Roy at he 2010 Newport Jazz Fest playing with Chick Corea's Freedom Band; Bottom: Roy and bass legend Ron Carter take the Newport stage in 2009]

Watching him on stage, usually sporting some funky shades, you can’t believe his age. Older jazz masters still go out and play. Their speed on a horn might be slower, their ideas still rich, they play some choruses and then bow. The rest of the band contributes their solos. We loves those masters. Roy starts driving the band from the first beat. Pushing, coloring, twisting the music. Alive and edge. From the first note through the entire set. When others solo, Roy’s still going, providing a fire to light their improvisational pilot lights.

You can’t say that the years strip away on stage. Because back stage you might mistake him for a barroom bouncer, even with his short height.

And he’s soooooo cool. Mind like a steel trap he remembers stories from back in the golden days -- the 40s with Sarah Vaughan, playing with Bird, filling in for Elvin Jones with the John Coltrane Quartet. He talks hip. Walks hip. Dresses hip as hell.

In fact he recounted to me a few years back his first encounter with Miles Davis thusly: “When we met, which would have been 1945 when I came to New York, I was into corduroy, and when I met this guy he had corduroy pants on. We were both listed in Esquire magazine. We were the youngest at the time, which would have been 1960, an article written by George Frazier called ‘The Art of Wearing Clothes.’ We were the only musicians, and the youngest. People like Fred Astaire, Walter Pigeon, all of those guys were in it.”

(Sonofabitch if he wasn’t exactly right with the date etc. )

Here are some more quotes from my encounter with Haynes, with whom I freely admit I was in awe:

“When we get on the bandstand, we all become one age—the same age. It has nothing to do with how old you are or where you’re from, it’s what you can do musically”

How does he keep going? “It’s a combination of everything. The feeling that I’m getting from the audience. First of all, the feeling of the group. We do it together as one. We inspire each other. We give it to the audience and the audience gives it back to us. It’s a back and forth thing … Every time I appear some place, it’s a different project. There’s always something new and interesting happening. We strive for that each time. We can play the same tune and take it some place else. It involves a new project at that time.”

On the drums being an extension of himself: “It feels like it, playing over 60 years. I never thought I would be still playing. I never thought I would even live this long, to be (at the time) 82, you know. Yes, definitely an extension of me. My approach to the instrument, as well. The sounds I try to get out of the drums. The whole thing … I’m still young. I’m still listening.”

Around the same time I interviewed the incredible drummer, another titan, Jack DeJohnette. The subject of Roy came up:

“Roy Haynes has always been at the top. He’s one of my mentors. I always knew where he was coming from. He’s always been inspirational. You can always hear Roy and get inspired. He’s been there with all of them, Lester (Young) to Bird (Charlie Parker), to Coltrane. He’s been there and still going strong in his 80s. He’s a wonderful inspiration. Very original, very creative and always playing with younger musicians, which keeps him inspired. He’s always fresh. He’s not old.”

Indeed. Had the pleasure of seeing Roy with Chick Corea last year and with his own band the year before. He’s kicking ass and taking names.

Well deserved honor, to say the very least. Thanks to the Grammy people for noticing.