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Tubby Hayes: A Man In A Hurry

Bruce Lindsay By

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Tubby Hayes
A Man In A Hurry
Mono Media Films
2015

Tubby Hayes -the finest jazz musician Britain ever produced and one of the unheralded greats of the genre. Powerful claims, but there are plenty of jazz fans (not only in the UK) who're in favor of both of them: A Man In A Hurry is a lovingly-crafted documentary that offers plenty of evidence in their support.

Hayes was primarily a tenor saxophonist, but he was also a skilful flautist and vibraphonist. He was also a man who lived life to the full—hence the movie's title—and like his early hero Charlie Parker, a man whose life was all too short. A Man In A Hurry—directed by Lee Cogswell and written by Mark Baxter—focuses on Hayes the musician and arranger, but it doesn't shy away from the lifestyle that Hayes chose to follow and the detrimental effects it ultimately had on his life.

Actor Martin Freeman—probably best known as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit—narrates. He's a dedicated and knowledgeable music fan and he delivers his commentary with the right mix of gravitas and respect. The movie opens with a clip of Hayes' friend and fellow tenor player Ronnie Scott introducing Hayes on a grainy black and white TV show: Hayes enters with a hard hitting, energetic burst of tenor that immediately grabs the attention.

There's a short look at Hayes' schooldays, and film of Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (another major influence). The story of Hayes the jazz musician really begins with the Boston haircut he sported in his mid-teens, when he embarked on his professional career. After that, the documentary takes off—a few archive interviews with Hayes, but most excitingly clips of Hayes in full flight, in small combos and big bands, on tenor, flute and vibes. There are recordings of Hayes soloing with Ella Fitzgerald, playing on the soundtrack of The Italian Job (1969), with Scott in the Jazz Couriers.

Contributors are knowledgeable and respectful, like Freeman. There's Hayes' eldest son Richard, fellow musicians like Ray Gelato and fellow tenor player (and Hayes biographer) Simon Spillett, contemporaries such as drummer Spike Wells, poet Michael Horovitz and artist Sir Peter Blake. The contributions are well edited, anecdotes are never stretched too far. They're an entertaining collection: a fascinating argument in favour of Hayes as the arch-Modernist and the precursor of the Mods; the tale of Hayes sitting in with Duke Ellington in place of an over-tired Paul Gonsalves, after the pair enjoyed a night on the town; Art Blakey's offer of a spot in the Jazz Messengers; and an intriguing rumor regarding Hayes' possible role on the soundtrack of the 1966 Michael Caine movie Alfie.

On the downside, A Man In A Hurry shows that despite his talent and widespread fame in the late '50s and early '60s Hayes arrived just a little too late. By '63 the sharp suits and side partings looked old fashioned. He continued to play superbly, he remained at the top of the jazz tree, but jazz was no longer the pop music it had been. By 1970 his health was failing. In 1973, during heart surgery, he died age 38.

But it's the good times that get the lion's share of this documentary: the muscular yet melodic playing, the innovative arranging, the appearances alongside legends such as Fitzgerald and Ellington. As broadcaster and fan Robert Elms puts it, the UK has ..."one of the Giants of Jazz, and we should celebrate it." A Man In A Hurry should help with that celebration.

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