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A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, KNKX and Jazz24 celebrate highly regarded jazz creators who continue to inspire.

With spirit and style, Roy Haynes has left an indelible stamp on jazz

Roy Haynes performs at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I. on Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009.
Joe Giblin
Roy Haynes performs at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I. on Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009.

On March 13, drummer Roy Haynes celebrated his 99th birthday. Haynes is a figure who not only shared the stage with legendary jazz figures over the decades, but contributed mightily to stylistic developments in the genre – and has had an indelible impact on younger artists who have had the opportunity to play with him.

In 1925, Haynes was born in Boston to parents who emigrated from Barbados. That island heritage came through in his playing, incorporating Afro-Cuban and Caribbean elements into his approach before it became widely fashionable. As a youth he cobbled together a drum kit piece by piece to play at a summer camp. He took it to gigs while in high school, with the letters "R" and "H" prominently on display.

Among the household jazz names Haynes played with over the decades: Lester Young in the ‘40s; Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk in the ‘50s; John Coltrane in the ‘60s; Dave Brubeck in the ‘70s; Freddie Hubbard in the ‘80s; and along the way he backed up vocalists like Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole. It is an astonishing list.

One of the only titans Haynes didn’t perform with – Duke Ellington – was of his own choosing, as he turned down Duke’s job offer in 1952. Haynes was worried the older horn players in Duke’s orchestra would have had a problem with his style. And that might very well might have come to pass, as Haynes was never afraid to stray from the beat and add his own little spice into the mix.

When current day stars talk about Haynes, you hear the word “modern” a lot; of how he laid the ground work that drummers like Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette would continue to run with decades later. Lewis Nash said in a 2007 Jazziz article that Haynes didn’t just comp with his left hand: he pretty much comped with all four limbs!

Cocky? Maybe. Confident? Definitely. I remember the first time I ever heard one of his recordings, this is what came out of the speakers:

A little promotional flair like that informed listeners this particular drummer wasn’t just some background member of the band. That was pianist Tommy Flanagan, by the way, calling out Haynes’ name, and he wasn’t the only legend name-dropping Haynes. Here’s Sarah Vaughan from her Swingin’ Easy album:

But the affection and attention has gone both ways. In interviews and on recordings, Haynes often pays tribute to the musicians that have caught his ear. In his mid-80s, Haynes covered the Chano Pozo song “Tin Tin Deo” on an album called Roy-alty, and giving the great Cuban percussionist a little extra recognition to boot:

Take the long view of Haynes’ contributions to the genre and you’ll note he's left his stamp on so many stylistic developments, whether it’s bebop, hard bop, chamber jazz, the avant-garde, dance music. That sort of range clearly requires an open mind, and it’s a major reason why his later work sounds so contemporary.

In 1990, guitarist Pat Metheny put out a record called Question and Answer with Haynes and bassist Dave Holland. In the liner notes of Haynes' 1998 album Praise, Metheny said the nights he spent on the bandstand with Roy remain among the highlights of his life as a musician.

Six years later, Joshua Redman was part of the “Remembering Bud Powell” tour with Haynes and pianist Chick Corea. In the Praise liner notes, Redman said that stretch was one of the most important periods of his life:

“Not only for the sheer force, energy, and brilliance of Roy’s playing, but because of his youthful spirit and zest for life.”

Indeed. Thank you very much, Roy Haynes, for seven decades of fantastic music.
Copyright 2024 KNKX Public Radio. To see more, visit KNKX Public Radio.

Carl Pogue fell in love with radio ever since getting a degree in the field over three decades ago. He’s spent his entire working career at commercial and public stations, with stops in Portland, San Diego, as well as NPR’s furthest affiliates on the Micronesian islands of Guam and Saipan.