March 13, 2005
Masonic Center Auditorium
San Francisco, CA
It was officially "Roy Haynes Day" in his native Boston, but the master drummer himself was in San Francisco, celebrating his 80th birthday on the stage with an all-star band and 2,000 well-wishers in attendance. The party was among the signature events of this year's SFJAZZ Spring Season.
In a show that stretched over nearly three hours and produced an incredible five standing ovations, Haynes demonstrated all of the qualities that have made him one of the great elder statesmen of jazz. His playing was impeccable, his personality endearing, and his music timeless.
Before introducing the night's honoree, saxophonist Joshua Redman said that it would be "a privilege to once again get my ass kicked by Roy." But the ass-kicking would have to wait, as the concert began with a core trio of Haynes, Chick Corea on piano and Christian McBride on bass. The three musicians, representing three generations of jazz, excelled as a unit. Corea and McBride swung about Haynes' rhythmic center of gravity in tight orbits, listening and responding to each other in ever more creative ways, until it seemed they had created a perfect, impenetrable sphere of sound, with no asymmetries or unresolved edges.
Each successive number added a new element to this musical mix. Vibraphonist Gary Burton joined the trio for Pat Metheny's composition "Question and Answer," a tune which showed perfect cohesion from the first note. Burton's cascading solo, like raindrops tumbling down a windowpane, played against Corea's gently rising chords and falling clusters of individually-sounded notes. McBride's solo had a marvelous sense of exploration, as he deconstructed the theme, carefully examined each piece, then put it all back together.
The band grew to a quintet as Kenny Garrett joined the team, adding a bluesy yet modernist alto sax to Corea's tune, "Bud Powell." Haynes, who slowly turned up the heat throughout the piece, broke loose at the end to provide his first major solo of the night. Rolling and staggering through his own percolating drive, Haynes made frequent rhythmic allusions to the melodic riff from the song's theme. It was a fine example of the tastefully forceful work which is Haynes' trademark.
Whether he's dropping down to the bare minimum, lightly tapping on the edges of his cymbals, or mounting an all-out rhythmic assault, Haynes choices are unfailingly the right ones for the moment. Indeed, his choices seem so natural that one forgets that's what they are. It seems inconceivable that another drummer might do things differently.
The next invited guest was trumpeter Nicholas Payton, who replaced Gary Burton for the rest of the first set and most of the second. Angling his body as he leapt into his solos, Payton's acid tone cut through the room like a bugle on a battlefield. Payton was especially effective working in tandem with Garrett, trading fours with liquid ease.
Redman finally entered the scene in the second set. His airy, speedy, unflinchingly hip solos rose and fell as if riding invisible waves, with Redman's body bobbing to match. Like Garrett, Redman seemed tailor-made for Payton; their unison playing on "Bouncin' With Bud" was a treat.
All of this was but a warm-up for three moments of sheer perfection that marked the middle of the second set. The night's only ballad, "Round Midnight" was given a textbook performance by a quartet of Haynes, Payton, Corea and McBride. Each of the four revealed the poetic essence of the song through a unique filter: Payton, its blues; Corea, its tonal colors; McBride, its solitude; and Haynes, the hushed breath of its titular hour.
This was followed by a tour de force solo from Haynes. Beginning with an Africanized rhythm on bass and tom-toms, Haynes seemed to give each drum in his kit a unique voice and personality. As he flew from a tribal ritual into a warlike cannonade and down to a whisper, his drums shouted in call and response, finally erupting into the musical equivalent of a ceremonial mock battle.
The third perfect moment, no less stunning than the others, was an extended dialogue between Haynes and Chick Corea. The two traded off for several minutes, percussive piano versus melodic drums, each quoting, enhancing, or refuting the statements of the other. Redman and Garrett, standing on opposite ends of the front line, both stood fascinated by the twists and turns of the rhythm section, Redman shaking his head and Garrett grinning from ear to ear.
This was a birthday party, and there was a cake, baked in the shape of a Roy Haynes Signature Copper Snare Drum (complete with logos). Haynes, in a fresh and funny monologue, seemed genuinely bowled over by the outpouring of love coming from his bandmates and the Masonic Auditorium crowd. "The drum inside is always going," said Haynes, who, despite cracking jokes about retiring to Barbados in the near future, seems fully ready to take on another 80 years behind the traps.