Roy Haynes at the Catalina, Hollywood

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Roy Haynes
Catalina Bar and Grill
Hollywood, California
May 26, 2008

Catalina Bar and Grill, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood. I walked in and sat down at the bar. Three guys were to my left—an older, strong-looking Afro-American guy, and two white guys wearing glasses. They were shortly joined by a young Afro-American man carrying two saxophones—an alto and a soprano. He placed the vaguely battered instruments purposefully on the bar in front of him, and sat down. This was the band. The (slightly) older black man was Roy Haynes, Hall of Fame jazz drummer who began playing with Charlie Parker during the bebop era, and who has carried on since, inspiring musicians like Coltrane, Roland Kirk, Chic Corea, and so it goes on. According to the record, he is 83, born May 13, 1925 but looking no more than 55.

The saxophonist was Jaleel Shaw, who has been playing with Haynes for a couple of years. The other two were Martin Bejerano, the pianist, and David Wong, the bassist. As the lights came down, Haynes lounged back in his chair and casually asked the others, first, what they wanted to play and, second: "So what do you want to start with?" He was dressed in a bright orange shirt open to three buttons, with a black undershirt and black felt trousers. His shirt cuffs were pulled back, and a heavy gold ring stood on his second right-hand finger.

The band walked to the stand and began the set—a mix of updated jazz classics with a bop tinge— from originals by the band to Thelonius Monk's "Bemsha Swing."

Bejerano's growling piano effects at one point received obvious approval and grins from the drummer and saxophonist and, at another, captured everyone's attention with authentic Debussy-like sounds. All the band, including the Brooklyn-based Bejerano, lives in the New York area.

Haynes didn't take long to launch into a battering drum solo, on Cole Porter's "My Heart Belongs To Daddy," that turned into a feature for every member of the band; a middle-aged Dizzy Gillespie look-a-like, who like me had gotten up to watch the solo more closely, came over and said, "Eighty-one years old. Damn!"

Haynes addressed the drums in his very musical style, showing why he has the nickname, "Mr Snap Crackle."

Jaleel Shaw exhibited an elegant touch on alto, reminiscent of alto sax legend Lou Donaldson but more like a smooth version of Donaldson meets Charlie Parker than Parker's latter-day boogaloo. The pianist and bassist were compact and broad, white-shirted, and so was their playing.

Haynes began to use brushes on a slower number, employing big floppy hits while raising the right- hand brush to an angle of forty-five degrees. By contrast, with most drummers the brush is "applied" in a flat circular motion.

Later into "My Heart Belongs To Daddy" (the band plays an extended version), Haynes began a furious backbeat, followed by hard punching hits. This guy is 30.

At one point, a guest drummer was allowed to knock some snare in an interplay with Shaw, Haynes encouraging them on. Haynes is an excellent entertainer and showman as well as one of the greatest drummers in jazz, and there was a long comedy and talk section: he railed about people wanting their photo with him, because he "was a legend." "What's a legend?" he asked a member of the audience near the stage. "You" replied the fan. Haynes rejoined: "That's the best answer I've heard!"

The gig was an example of what might be called the current new music—in other words, a mix of jazz and other sounds that give the music a forward edge. This band, and the new work of Herbie Hancock (and perhaps to a lesser extent Wayne Shorter), is more innovative than the sounds of any current rock bands or singer-songwriters. This set alone was ample proof, as is the brilliant album of Charlie Parker compositions that Roy Haynes and other accomplished soloists (such as trumpeter Roy Hargrove) released on Dreyfus in 2001, Birds Of A Feather: A Tribute To Charlie Parker. The recording sheds new light on Bird's immortal tunes and inventions.

In connection with Charlie Parker, it was also no accident that a highlight of the Catalina gig was Jaleel Shaw's delivering the Parker composition, "Segment." The tune is the closer track on the band's live album Whereas (Dreyfus, 2006), recorded in St. Paul, Minnesota during that city's "Roy Haynes Weekend."

Roy Haynes is a brilliant musician still pushing into new territories while showing a glimpse of the best of the old. Just don't call him a "legend"!


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