JJ 08/61: In My Opinion – Tubby Hayes

Sixty years ago the saxophonist often even now acclaimed as the UK's finest, turned out to be an articulate jazz commentator, on this occasion on Coltrane (original), Ellington (glamorous), Hampton (dated), Feldman (wonderful) and more. First published in Jazz Journal August 1961


This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians, who are asked to give a snap opinion on a set of records played to them. Although no previous information is given as to what they are going to hear, they are, during the actual playing, handed the appropriate record sleeve. Thus in no way is their judgment influenced by being unaware of what they are hearing. As far as possible the records played to them are currently available items procurable from any record shop. Although only now in his twenties. Edward Brian “Tubby” Hayes has been playing professionally since 1950. His first job was with Kenny Baker, but he really came to prominence when he formed the Jazz Couriers with Ronnie Scott. His first instrument was the violin, but he now confines himself to the saxophone family, the flute and vibraphone. The latter instrument he took up after encouragement from Victor Feldman. He is a most superior soloist and one of the most talented of all our young modern musicians. – Sinclair Traill

“I Hear A Rhapsody”. John Coltrane (Lush Life). Esquire 32-129
Well, Coltrane is my favourite of all the modern tenor players – he is so original and creative. So much more creative than even the other good ones. Like Sonny Stitt, for instance – Stitt plays beautifully, but he has those little runs and things which have almost become clichés. Coltrane is never like that; he is always, and particularly on the freedom of his own record dates, he is always striving for something new, something original. Sometimes he doesn’t always make it – he may fluff a note here and there or play a run which doesn’t quite come off – but he is always trying some­thing new. I heard a record the other day on which he plays two or even three notes which are difficult for the human ear to hear. I am sure some people will condemn it as a horrible row, but who knows to what it may lead?

Some of the chord sequences he uses, such as those on Giant Steps, are far in advance of anything anyone else has ever attempted. How he can play like that, at that tempo, amazes me. He explores the harmonics of the saxophone and produces those high notes which, who knows, may add another octave to the range of the tenor saxophone – and that would be an ad­vantage. He also has a most individual sound – a sound one can immediately recognise. On up-tempo tunes he sometimes sounds a little angular, but on ballads his tone becomes very warm and full, and of course he always plays with that devastating drive. He says now he is going back, exploring. He has been listening to Sidney Bechet, and has indeed now taken up the soprano. I prefer him on tenor, but the man is always after something new.

“Cotton Tail”. Compositions Of Duke Ellington. Eros ERLS 50022
That was Ben Webster playing his old solo, note for note with the same arrangement. Think I prefer the original, which was a landmark – it stood out, and even now hasn’t dated in any way. Can’t really see the sense in re-recording it that way; better if he’d done something new. Of course, Web­ster’s original version of Cotton Tail was recorded a long time before I started to play. My first influence was Charlie Parker. I had always had an interest in jazz, but the first time I heard Bird, wham! – I was really moved! Actually it is only in the last five or six years that I have gone back and started listening to what happened before I began playing. No doubt there is still a great deal I have yet to hear.

“Anitra’s Dance”. Duke Ellington. Philips SBBL 616
I hadn’t heard that before. It is difficult to judge on one hearing. I wish there had been more of Paul Gonsalves. I like his playing so much, such a terrific amount of feeling. I am not referring to that long thing he did at Newport, for although it’s very exciting, he has played many better solos. His sound is completely original and so, too, is his conception. There is no-one who gets round the changes in that particular way; Gonsalves could never be mistaken for anyone else. That ballad, Happy Reunion from Newport 1958, is one of the best, one of the prettiest saxophone solos I have ever heard! Of course, the Ellington band has never failed to knock me out – the discipline, the whole glamorous sound.

“Tickle Toe”. Bob Prince (Saxes Inc.). Warner WS 8040
Zoot Sims and Al Cohn – very interesting! Year in and year out, Zoot must take the award for consistency. He never fails to swing, and although I wouldn’t call him the most creative of all tenor players, he is a very schooled musician. Without thinking of him as a creative great, he reaches a consistent high standard. Al Cohn plays well, but I always think of him as an arranger. Some of his scores are marvellous, and maybe his arranging takes up so much of his time that it affects his playing. Don’t mean he is bad, not by a long way. His duetting here with Zoot is great; they both play beautifully. Incidentally, they both have a quite individual sound which I could recognise anywhere. I don’t think Cohn’s tone is a particularly lovely one, but it is something personal. Zoot has a light, bouncy sound and the way he moves along is easily recognisable. The writing there by Bob Prince was very interesting – modern but melodious. I must get that record.

‘Coleman Hawkins, the giant of the tenor saxophone! That was as modern as anything could be in jazz today . . . It is wonderful how, without alteration of basic style, he has kept up with the jazz trends, year after year’

“You Blew Out The Flame”. Coleman Hawkins. Prestige/Swingville SVLP 2005
Coleman Hawkins, the giant of the tenor saxophone! That was as modern as anything could be in jazz today. . . . His huge sound, which has never diminished with the years! It is wonderful how, without alteration of basic style, he has kept up with the jazz trends, year after year. The trumpet player there, Joe Thomas, wasn’t quite with it, but the rhythm section were fine. I did notice when Coleman was here last, that although the tone was as big as ever, he had to fight a little harder to put it over. It is noticeable on this record – a little shortness of breath occasionally. Due to the passing of the years, no doubt. But his command of harmonic ideas is as unimpaired as ever.

“Hallelujah”. Lionel Hampton – Art Tatum – Buddy Rich. Columbia 33CX 10045
Well, these three have plenty of technique, and there they were having a good time – but that’s not my cup of tea. For a start, I think a bass player would have improved matters, and I didn’t like that flowery piano backing to Hampton’s vibes. It may suit Hampton’s style, but if it were me playing, I’d hate that kind of backing. Hampton himself has bags of technique and some of the things he plays are quite amazing, but it all sounds too dated. They swing all right, and obviously have fun, but it is dated music that wouldn’t last with me.

“I Mean You”. Thelonious Monk. Blue Note 1510
That was quite a different cup of tea, for Milt Jackson is my favourite vibraphone player. That was recorded a few years, ago, when he was playing even better than he is today. I prefer him away from the Modern Jazz Quartet, for he can let himself go – he is not so confined and is able to swing more. Milt is essentially a modern player, basing his style on Bird and Diz – the original kind of bop-style – but he has his own personal methods. That’s the way I like to hear the vibraphone played; there is much more subtlety there than in Hampton’s playing.

As for Thelonious, he must be one of the most original pianists and composers in jazz today. Many of his tunes are full of new and original sequences – new chordal passages that one has never heard before. Even some of his blues are unusual; and many of his things are so exceptional that it takes quite a mind to grasp what he is doing. As for his piano playing, I hear a lot of Duke Ellington, and a lot of the old stride pianists – even a touch of ragtime in places, allied to all the modern changes one would expect.

People say Monk is far out, but although I find the form and chord progressions of his compositions take a degree of thought before one tackles them, I also find that the actual way he voices chords is very unique but really quite simplified. If you listen you will find it’s quite logical. At first hearing it may strike you as weird but I find on listening again it all works out as being completely coherent and not nearly as far out as one imagined at first hearing. Under his pose, of being something of a character, he really is a wonderful musician.

Solowise, there are other pianists I prefer, but when Monk plays one of those compositions of his which are full of these chord progressions, such as Crepuscule With Nellie, or any ballad; his choice of notes for his chords achieves such beautiful sounds. He doesn’t bother padding it out but keeps everything as economical as possible. At first hearing you will think you hear a clash or a dischord, but really it’s noth­ing of the kind; for if he played the rest of the notes around the discord, it wouldn’t be a discord at all. Monk just plays the basic thing and by leaving out all the padding, makes it sound completely stark. Nevertheless, that is how he wants it and really it’s all there.

On Victor Feldman: ‘He is, to my mind, far and away the greatest jazzman this country has produced. I have listened to him a great deal, both on record and in the flesh, and on vibes I think he has even more ability than Milt Jackson’

“What Is This Thing Called Love?”. Cannonball Adderley. Riverside RLP 344
That’s right up my street! The rhythm section there for a start were wonderful, bang up to date and playing excellently together. Louis Hayes is one of my favourite of all drum­mers, Sam Jones is a superb bassist, and of course Victor Feldman, who has really made “top-class”. He is, to my mind, far and away the greatest jazzman this country has produced. I have listened to him a great deal, both on record and in the flesh, and on vibes I think he has even more ability than Milt Jackson. When he was over here last year playing at Ronnie Scott’s Club we were all astounded, he was that good! I have never yet heard Milt play anything with four mallets, but Victor can, and his technique all over the in­strument is immense. He can play at any tempo and the sound he gets is wonderful.

And that’s just on vibraphone. Here his piano playing is superb, and inspires both the Adderleys. He feeds them with ideas, moves the thing along all the time, and meshes with Louis and Sam perfectly. May­be his solos bear some relationship to the work of Wynton Kelly, but much he does is original, and anyway where in the world is the musician who isn’t influenced by somebody or other? Also there is Victor’s writing ability – we haven’t heard too much on record as yet, but within a year or so, watch out. I’ve recorded with him and his arrangements were far in advance of anything anyone here has done. He has re­cently been studying under Marty Paich, and so I am sure even that side of his talent will improve – and what a talent the man has!