“ Every time I get on the bandstand, it's going to be something different. I want to do something that I've never done before. ”
Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie have many things in common - one of which is Roy Haynes. The drummer has played with these and other jazz giants during his 77 years as a percussive powerhouse. He turns 78 on March 13th, and the jazz world celebrates at New York City's Blue Note for a week when Haynes performs with saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Dave Kikoski, and bassist Scott Colley. On the occasion of his birthday - a personal milestone and cultural moment -AllAboutJazz- New York met with Haynes to discuss his romance with rhythm, thoughts on the past, and plans for the future. Haynes started off the interview responding to our initial question of what he feels is most important to him.
Roy Haynes: Breathing, getting up, feeling good. Sometimes I may be playing drums and I feel like it's therapy. I like fresh air, being around interesting people, talking about interesting things - not just ABCD, like a lot of music today.
All About Jazz: Many people consider you jazz royalty - an energetic personality.
RH: I do what I do. I've been semi-retired now for the last couple of months. It can get boring, not playing. I read about myself once and it said, "When Roy walks, he walks with rhythm." I feel like that. When I ride trains, I deal with sounds - 'chugga chugga chugga chugga'.
AAJ: Tell me about some of the percussive pianists you've played with.
RH: Chick Corea's very percussive. Monk was interesting to play with. I like that kind of challenge, and playing with Monk was definitely a challenge. Monk had a lot of rhythm - in fact, one of his tunes was called "Rhythm-a-Ning" - but Chick's probably more percussive.
AAJ: What are some of your aims as a performer?
RH: You gotta be real. I'll talk to somebody from onstage and they'll respond, and I'll make them feel more comfortable, or myself feel more comfortable. That's great. There may be somebody who's not familiar with what you're doing musically. I've got a lot of people saying, "I've never heard a drummer play like that."
AAJ: Your family's very musical.
RH: All my children play, except my daughter. She really wanted to be a singer, but she has children - very talented children, including Marcus, who plays the drums, and another older than Marcus, Leah. They both go to school in Manhattan. Leah plays bassoon. She's very good. My son Graham plays trumpet, flugelhorn, and clarinet. Right now, he's doing music for a film that will be on PBS.
AAJ: What do you think some of the tasks ought to be of jazz critics? What makes a critic responsible, or irresponsible?
RH: Naturally, when a musician plays a concert or does a recording, his heart and soul - if he's for real - is in it, so when he reads critical things of what he's trying to do, it can affect him. Writers like to write like they know everything, but you can't know everything. I wouldn't want to be a critic, but sometimes when I read what they write about me, I learn more about myself, because I don't know the way it's coming over. I've been fortunate. Most of my reviews have been favorable. I couldn't speak for a lot of other artists, but it's inspiring to get a great review.
AAJ: You've recently been playing with John Patitucci, Danilo Perez, and others. Any particular direction you want to take your music?
RH: Every time I get on the bandstand, it's going to be something different. I want to do something that I've never done before. There must be something to what I'm doing to have people like Charlie Parker feel something and want to be part of it. There's something there, and I don't necessarily want to analyze what it is, but naturally it makes me feel good. I don't want to pin it down. I think it's speaking for itself.
AAJ: What goes through your mind before gigs. Are there any routine thoughts before performing?
RH: When I'm going to play anywhere, we're lighting a fire before we get there. Sh*t, f*ck it. I'm going to kick their ass on the drums! That's the language I speak. You know, with my bands, I try to get somebody who understands what I'm doing without me always having to describe it. I don't like to tell people what I think they should do, or what to do. Telling someone how to live? I don't know. Just one day at a time.
AAJ: With your birthday coming up, what can we expect?
RH: I'll have with me at the Blue Note - helping to celebrate my birthday - Joshua Redman. There was an article in the Village Voice once, where they were asking different artists who they thought was impressive during that last year, and they had a photo of me in it, with quotes from Joshua Redman. When I read the things Joshua had said, it actually brought tears to my eyes. We had played together in Europe with Pat Metheny and Chick Corea when we had the Remembering Bud Powell band. You never know what influence people are getting from you. I learn more about myself - thing's I didn't realize. Maybe something you see about my playing - or something you see in me - that I don't know about. I'm just going along; just moving. There's no telling what may happen next'Sometimes I meet somebody in a store who's read a little about me, and I'll say, "Why don't you come to the performance tonight. You might get something out of it. If you get a feeling within yourself about what's going on, that's a start." I had a lady once in Chicago standing in the lobby as people [were] leaving, and she said that listening to my music reminded her of the four seasons. That got to me, and I knew she had to be somebody. That's how I try to play - a little of this and a little of that.
AAJ: The list of celebrity musicians you've played with is almost endless - Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis. What did it feel like in diners, on the road, in buses?
RH: You can't even really say what it was like. At one point, Coltrane was just another musician in the club, not even realizing that he was going to develop into what he did. He was a rather good friend musician. We're all just human beings trying to play the music. I became part of that, and I've been very fortunate to live this long and to play and innovate...It's important not to do the vices. Don't even overdue eating. I don't know if that has anything to do with my living to be 78, but moderation's important. A little exercise, too. What advice do I tell my grandson? I listen to him.
Jimmy Katz and Sputnik