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Interviews

Louis Hayes

By Published: September 25, 2005

You never know how youre going to sound until you hit the stage and start playing...

Influenced by Philly Joe Jones and mentored by Papa Jo Jones, drummer Louis Hayes is a jazz survivor and a swinging one at that. The one-time Detroit musician grew up listening to and eventually playing with such legendary performers as Yusef Lateef, Sam Jones, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan and so many others from that prosperous golden age of jazz in the Motor City. His longtime associations with many a jazz legend—including Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley and Oscar Peterson—have solidified Hayes' living legend status at age 68, though he keeps as busy a playing schedule as he always has had.

All About Jazz: You've been around working at it for around 50 years...Why drums and why jazz?

Louis Hayes: I was introduced to this art form by my father—Louis Hayes, Sr.—(who) played drums and piano, though not professionally. So drums and piano were in the home; my mother also played piano and I had a cousin—another early teacher—who was a postman and a drummer. He and my father both led me toward this art form jazz: bebop. My father listened to this art form, so as a kid coming up I heard it all the time, (especially) the big bands.

I heard the music that he was playing on the radio. And people in the neighborhood, they were playing various instruments and were playing this art form. I was really listening and I had some other compadres in the neighborhood that played different instruments and we were doing things together. So I started doing this as a kid. I was into sports but by the time I was, well when I was ten—I got started playing pretty good. When I was in my early teens, 13 or something, I started really listening to the music more.

After I first heard Charlie Parker, he got my attention at an early age. Then one day my mother sent me over to one of her friend's homes to help her wash windows and her husband was part owner or managed this club. We skipped the washing windows that day and we started talking about music, I was maybe 16. And he asked me to bring a group into his club, a teenage club at the time. So that's what I did. That's when I had my first group, about 1953. I got started like that; I just played at street dances for a period of time.

AAJ: This was all still in Detroit?

LH: Yes...Then I went into another teenage club called The Tropicana in Detroit, playing with my little buddies. In Detroit there were so many older musicians that I saw that could really play this art form at a high level: Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Doug Watkins, the bassist Paul Chambers, Milt Jackson and Yusef Lateef. There were just so many. And we had a place called The World Stage. I was playing little clubs and leaving town for places surrounding Detroit—places like Ann Arbor, Michigan—and going different places. I might go to some place and stay for a month, as I did some traveling...I was playing in little clubs up to a certain point but then I started playing in real clubs, but I was too young to be in them. You were supposed to be 21; I was maybe 18 at this point, but I got away with it pretty good.

Then I got this job with Lateef because I was appearing in this place with an organ trio. When Yusef was going to take over the leader's spot, the owner said to him, "You can have your job, but I would like for you to keep Louis Hayes . Naturally, I was aware of Yusef, but he wasn't aware of me. So he came over to my mother's home and said to me that I could have the job, but he would give me six weeks trial. Well, marvelous, six weeks and (trombonist) Curtis Fuller. I mean, this was a great band. So I was with them for a period of time until they found out I was 18 and that's when I lost that job!

But it prepared me pretty good, playing every night with musicians that played so well. It kind of prepared me because right after that Horace Silver called me...I was in an after hours place in Detroit. Kenny Burrell and Doug Watkins who were already living here but were home for some reason and I had an opportunity to sit in and play with them that night. And when he got back to New York, he decided to disband and do some other things. So Art Blakey got the name Jazz Messengers and Horace Silver put his own group together. This was in 1956. So Doug Watkins was appearing with the Messengers and he was going on with Horace. So he asked Horace to get the "baby boy out of Detroit. So Horace called me. Oh, boy, what a telephone call. It changed my whole life.

AAJ: I'll bet it did.

LH: Horace called me and I immediately told my mother what was happening and came to New York. I think it was August 1956. My life changed—it started from there. I was recording my first record, recording with Horace—Six Pieces of Silver. And at that time, I did about five of his recordings, from '56 to '59. Also, I was here (in New York), so I was recording with a lot of different people, with John Coltrane several times (and) a lot of different people.

AAJ: Everybody was recording with everybody at that time. Bethlehem Records had a whole bunch of people and everybody would sit in with everybody else.

LH: Exactly. That was what was happening. And it was so great. And living in this area, there were so many great artists right in this area. You could walk around and see all the guys.

AAJ: There were people all over the place. And there were a lot of places to play. That was a golden time, the '50s.

LH: Yes, it was a wonderful time. I was doing those things and I stayed with Horace until '59. And (bassist) Sam Jones...we were appearing in Birdland on 52nd Street one of those nights that they had the session night. I forgot what night they used to do it, but every week they would just have guys coming in and just play together. So I was there with Jones; Bobby Timmons, piano, Hank Mobley and Booker Little played trumpet. And Sam asked me and Bobby, he said that Cannonball (Adderley), who was at the time with Miles, was going to form his group again...this was the second time. He said, "Would you have eyes? Would you think about that? So I thought about it and I had been with Horace for those three years. I switched up and I went with Cannon and Nat (Adderley). (And) I'm glad I did. That was a really wonderful experience. I enjoyed being with Horace all that period of time because Horace was wonderful. I mean, I learned so much from Horace Silver and we still are very close. But going with Cannon and Nat—I mean, it was like a family.

Miles used to come and ask me to join his band when I first went with Cannon. I couldn't do it. I wanted to, but I just couldn't do that (to) Cannon, you know. But that was 6 years with Cannon. And in that time a lot of different things happened. After Cannon, Sam and I went with Oscar Peterson in '65. Oscar's a wonderful person. I had never been with a trio before and when I went Ray Brown was still there. So I had the opportunity to work with him. What a guy! So I went with Oscar and Sam came right in. We were very, very close. They used to call us "the rhythm section . We made quite a few records together; people wanted the opportunity to play with Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. We just got along like that. It was just one of those things that just happens where you just click. Sam was with Oscar after I left.

I left for a period of time and did some other things. Freddie Hubbard lived upstairs from me for years in Brooklyn; we were very good friends and were always getting into something together, sometimes it was nice and sometimes it wasn't but it was always a lot of fun. I was doing things with Freddie and then I went back with Oscar in '71 and did another year (or so). After that I started having my own bands and I did that. We traveled in Europe and Freddie and (tenor saxophonist) Joe Henderson and myself were back and forth. But then, things weren't going as great as I wanted it to and my daughter was ready to go to college, so I switched up.

I went with McCoy Tyner who wanted to have a trio. I said, "Perfect. Get me out of this fix . I went with McCoy and did that with him for over three years. That was in '85. Wonderful guy, McCoy. We got along very well together... we were very, very busy all the time. Then I started having my own band again. And basically since that time, I've had my own band, since around '89. James Browne, who runs Sweet Rhythm, one day said to me, "Louis, you're the only one still alive from Cannon's original band. Could you put it back together again? So we went into his club and had these different alto saxophonists every night. But Vincent Herring—he had been appearing with Cannon's brother Nat for years—who I knew, got together with me and put this Louis Hayes Cannonball Legacy Band together. That's what I've been doing for the last two, three years. We've only recorded once for an Italian label and we've been traveling around, this year Newport, we just left New Orleans and we were at the Clifford Brown Festival.

AAJ: Now, you're going to be at the very intimate Upper West Side club Smoke in September, with a trio.

LH: ...Now that's something different. Sometimes I just do different things. This is going to be Louis Hayes' Trio with Devon Jackson (tenor saxophone) and Ruben Rogers (bass). No piano. Just tenor sax, bass and drums!

AAJ: It must keep the juices flowing to do different things and different times rather than same old, same old, because you've been at it a long time...Even touring, because that's hard.

LH: Yes, exactly. It keeps me feeling good...Now, it's even more of a problem because of the traveling. I used to travel with my drums and I don't really do that anymore. Only thing I take out with me now are my cymbals and snare drum and sometimes I don't even take the snare because of traveling on planes and going through all the hassles. It's too much of a problem, plus I don't feel like carrying those drums and setting them up anymore. Even when I'm (playing) here (in New York)...I have a guy who comes in and takes them and sets them up. I just play. Then he takes them down, puts them in the ride and I'm (off to) home. That way I don't have to do it anymore.

AAJ: You've done a lot of Europe. You've played the Orient, too?

LH: Yes. Japan, I was there. The first time was in '63 with Cannon. And then I was over there—though never with my group—a few times with Oscar Peterson and McCoy. And when Art Blakey wasn't well and was just getting ready to go over to the other side, he had this tour set up to go over but couldn't make it. So I spoke to time on the phone and he asked me, "Louis, you go and take the group over . And that's what happened. So that was very interesting that time. They asked me to come back and do it again.

AAJ: I've often wondered whether there is any kind of difference in the responsiveness of the Oriental audiences and the European audiences. Do they respond differently? They both obviously love jazz.

LH: I would say when I first started going to Europe—maybe '57/'58 with Horace—the audiences were fantastic. You'd get off the stage sometimes and you'd have to run to the dressing room. It changed. They appreciate the art form but there's a big difference with the fact that so many guys started going over. And Japan, when I first went there that was brand new because no one had been over there, except Art Blakey I think. But we were the first ones to record over there. So it was a big difference. Ladies were still wearing kimonos...But everything changes.

AAJ: The other thing in the Orient not just Japan—in like Shanghai and now people are going into Beijing and doing jazz—they want you out there for months. You don't go out there for a week and then go home.

LH: Yes. Well, I was only in Hong Kong once and that was with Oscar. But I've never experienced those other places. I would like to go certain places if was my wife was going to come with me. I don't want to go anyplace away from home and stay for months—it's too long. I had a group once and we went to Europe, I remember (saxophonist) Gary Bartz and myself, for six weeks. Oh, that was rough. So I prefer at this point not to go and stay at these places that long. I just don't like being out of town that long. I used to see Duke's band. I mean, they'd go out six months. I remember Paul Gonsalves told me one time—he said he came out and there was nothing there but the shelves. He got there, his wife was gone, all the furniture. Nothing. You have to love it and really be into it to go out and stay for long periods of time like that. That's your whole life.

AAJ: It's hard on the women. The guys you were playing and coming up with were always on the road.

LH: With Cannon we traveled pretty good but he wasn't married a good part of that time. Nat was, but Cannon wasn't. I got married too young the first time, so I was married some of it.

AAJ: I wanted to ask you because I've run into this funny thing about people calling jazz, "jazz , when it isn't jazz. How do you feel about that?

LH: Yes. Well, it's to the point where people don't know what this art form is anymore. At one point you knew what direction you were going in if you played this art form. Sometimes there was a little difference between the east coast and the west coast, but other than that when they started giving it all these different names—fusion and now it's to the point where like this "smooth jazz it's not what I would call this art form.

A lot of times people come to me and they say, "This is the first time I've heard real jazz . It happened recently. It's caused me problems sometimes while working, but I've always tried to play what I want to play because I'm comfortable doing this, and this is the reason I got into this art form in the first place. I have a problem playing any other way anyway. I've always played this art form the way I hear it and the musicians, the artists, that I've surrounded myself with—whether they were older or younger—and they've always felt the same way. So we've always just played straight ahead in dealing with this art form on the highest level that we could.

AAJ: How do you feel about some of the younger people coming up?

LH: Well, we have some great young artists coming up. People like Jeremy Pelt, the trumpet player and we have this other trumpet player from Pittsburgh named Sean Jones. I saw him the first time not that long ago at Dizzy's Club with the Heath Brothers. He's going to do some festivals with us coming up. And the drummer Nasheet Waits and his buddy, drummer Eric McPherson. They both impress me a lot. They're into it, they practice all the time. I used to practice all the time, too...

One drummer (the late) Tony Williams really impressed me. I first met him in Boston. Tony used to come from Boston and I lived in Brooklyn, just to hang out with me. Then Miles asked me about him and Tony went with Miles. We used to practice together. Tony Williams practiced more than John Coltrane. And John Coltrane practiced. When I lived in this area, Coltrane lived on 103rd and sometimes I would be in his apartment—he practiced more than anybody I've seen in my life, until Tony Williams who practiced so much he used to wear me out. It's really amazing how much he practiced. He practiced all day up until the job and then go play the job and come back at night and practice some more. Now that was one drummer that really impressed me.

AAJ: It often amazes me, as a general rule...the stamina that drummers have. I find that with a lot of drummers, as a rule -they've just got some kind of extra energy that other musicians don't have. What do you eat?

LH: I'll tell you what it comes from. You don't even think about it when you're in shape because you practice. I mean, sometimes, I practice now maybe 8 hours, maybe 9, maybe 5, maybe 6. But when you're used to doing it, stamina doesn't even play a part. I think the only difference I find within myself is when I was younger...up to I would say to about 40...if I didn't really warm up before I went to work, it really didn't bother me too much. But after about 40, I could tell, I started feeling and performing different. So I like to warm up before I start playing. I practice anyway but just before I go to a job, I like to warm up, get it together a little bit not just go cold like I used to. Hang out, drink and act silly—I don't do that anymore. That's the only difference. I still have pretty good stamina...'Cause one thing, you are the engine—you're playing through everything!

AAJ: You've been through a whole bunch of years of music and it never gets boring, does it?

LH: No, because it's always a challenge. Because depending on, what date you're playing, who you're playing with, the music you're making—it's a challenge, (and) you can't sound the same all the time. You never know how you're going to sound until you hit the stage and start playing, and I'm always a little tense sometimes before I start playing because of that. You don't know how your body is going to react. Once you start playing, you'll figure it out then. You know your body changes all the time...you can practice real good sometimes and it still just doesn't work right. Other times, you're right. No problem. You just have a great time.

Photo Credit
Lars Bjorn



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