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The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes

David A. Orthmann By

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The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes
Simon Spillett
376 Pages
ISBN: #13 978 1 78179 1738
Equinox Publishing Ltd.
2015

Tenor saxophonist, author, and discographer Simon Spillett spent a decade writing The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes. Employing a wealth of interviews from Hayes' colleagues (some of whom he has performed with) and fans, an abundance of articles and reviews mostly from British journalists, as well as evincing a sharp, critical view of his subject's music, Spillett presents a meticulously researched and engagingly written piece of work about a figure whose music and story may have escaped the notice of many jazz fans.

Hayes was a tenor saxophonist (he also recorded on several other instruments) composer, arranger, and bandleader who towered over the British modern jazz scene for much of his twenty-three year career. He was welcome throughout Europe, and regarded by many American musicians and critics as equal to nearly every living tenor player before his untimely death in 1973. What separates this biography from run-of-the-mill efforts in which an author offers an endless, ultimately numbing stream of names, dates, gigs, awards, and inside stories about the cream of the jazz crop, is Spillett's ability to convey the significance of Hayes' developing a formidable voice outside of the confines of America, in a country that wasn't particularly receptive to modern jazz.

The book possesses a restless, dialectical quality that suits Hayes' life, times and legacy. Spillett does a brilliant job of capturing the uncertainties of Hayes' professional and personal existence, deftly elucidating a constant juxtaposition of obstacles and triumphs. The uneasy, often contentious relationship between art and entertainment, commerce and art, career fulfillment and interpersonal relationships, as well as the press's role in evaluating an artist's work—all familiar to any close observer of twentieth-century jazz—are in evidence throughout nearly every chapter. Moreover, Spillett patiently explains the strategies that Hayes employed in an attempt to keep his career on a progressive course.

Not unlike his American counterparts, particularly those who came of age, musically speaking, in the 1930s and 40s, early on Hayes worked at finding an identity as a jazz musician while playing in high profile dance bands which featured a jazz selection or two. Apart from the influence of British modern jazzmen, tenor saxophonist Ronnie Scott and trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar, Hayes based his style on the work of American musicians, including but not limited to Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Hank Mobley, and John Coltrane. Hayes was a highly ambitious man with an indefatigable work ethic, who constantly strived to keep up with the latest trends, even dipping a big toe into the 1960s avant-garde.

Before reaching the age of majority, Hayes began leading big bands and combos, rapidly reaching a point where he rarely made concessions to commercial realities or trends. His exalted position in the small British modern jazz scene of the 1950s and 60s was due, in part, to an upbeat, charismatic stage presence which included dressing in sharp, expensive suits and acting as a genial master of ceremonies. "He had a good image, an easy way with the public, and had inspired a certain familiar affection, even in non-specialist listeners." (p. 295) Particularly in the early years of Hayes' ascent as a bandleader, his youthful enthusiasm drew a significant audience of his age group as well as older jazz aficionados.

Even after Hayes succeeded in developing his own voice, being judged by the standards of American jazz was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he was often praised by the British music press for being the equal of—and sometimes exceeding—almost everyone in the US; on the other, he was frequently pummeled in print for not being an innovator—of which the same could be said about nearly any jazz musician, regardless of their country of origin. A similar play of forces applies to the opinions of Hayes' prodigious technique, which enabled him to rapidly execute seemingly unlimited amounts of notes for as long as he pleased. In some critical circles, he was held up as an example of someone who could play as fast as American tenor man Johnny Griffin; conversely, the same quality was often rejected as excessive, mechanistic and not particularly musical.

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