Roy Haynes Hot Licks

Trading Tough Sixes

By Wally Schnalle Originally published in the June/July 1999 issue of DRUM! Magazine

Roy Haynes has “been there-done-that,” and at 73 year’s young, he’s still doin’ it. His playing these days has the kind of fire and vitality that often eludes older musicians. He also swings harder than many younger drummers in their so-called prime. Years ago he created his own voice on the drums to which he has remained true. Haynes’s playing has always been immediately identifiable and continues to be a benchmark to which many others aspire. A tight snare and abundance of tasteful activity on it have always been evidence that Haynes was in the driver’s seat.

A true legend in drumming and jazz, Haynes’s playing credits as a sideman and a leader read like a who’s who of jazz history. He has shared the stage and recording studio with jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Chick Corea and Pat Metheny. With those kinds of credits and a career that spans over 50 years, it seems we should be able to get some technical advice from Haynes’s years of experience, but he is hesitant to give guidance. “When I started I was very natural,” he says. “I didn’t have people to tell me what to do and what not to do. Today we have a lot of information out there, so if I told somebody how to play something I might confuse them.” But I didn’t give up, because Haynes can play. Plus, I want to be playing in my seventies, as well.

“I started playing professionally in the early ’40s,” he says. “In those days we had more natural players. Today somebody just wakes up and decides they want to be a drummer and starts studying. In the old days it didn’t happen like that. Today everything is there for you. We didn’t have that, so you had to be kind of raw, innovative and creative. At different times, I can get different things out of the instrument. I’ve never had the kind of technique that they talk about, so I have to make up things. My technique is mostly natural.

“If I’m playing jazz, which is all I play anyhow, it really has to swing. The heartbeat has to be there. When I play, I try to give it some feeling and not make it cold by just playing something that I’ve practiced. I play according to the environment I’m in and what’s being played by other people around me. For instance, take Coltrane. [To accompany] what he is playing, you’re going to have to develop something new in what you’re playing. When I get a player like that, a guy who’s really listening, and we’re going back and forth, that development can happen.”

I see. We just have to make it swing and play with Coltrane!

When trying to learn from a master like Haynes, sometimes words aren’t quite enough, so let’s check out some of his music. Haynes released his the album Praise, in 1998, which contains recordings of Haynes in solo, duet and on up to sextet formats, with a wonderful cast of younger players, including Kenny Garrett on alto and soprano sax, Haynes’s son, Graham, on trumpet, David Sanchez on tenor sax, Dwayne Brown on bass and longtime musical associate David Kikowski on piano. Haynes has a special relationship with Kikowski. “I don’t like to work real steady, so David does his own projects and works with other people. When I get ready to do something I’ll give David a call and he’ll cancel other things because he likes to be there. He understands my concept. If I screw up musically he’ll know what it’s about, and I like that because it’s loose.”

The third tune on Praise is “Israel.” “I knew John Carisi, who wrote that tune, from the ’40s and I like the composition,” he explains. “It reminds me of those times in the ’40s when we would hang out in New York. It’s a minor 12-bar form and I like the way Miles did it.” This arrangement of the tune is fertile ground for exploration of this master’s drumming as he trades solos with fiery pianist and musical mate Kikowski.

Once again, in an attempt to glean a few secrets from the master, I asked about his concept for trading. “I usually respond with my own thing,” he says. “Sometimes I leave some space there. That has something to say as well. I like to get them fired up so they throw things back at me, which will make me go another direction. It’s a back and forth. I don’t analyze it. We’re talking to each other by making music. I play and that’s it. Whatever comes out is as sincere as possible and if it works, good. The dialogue we had when trading speaks for itself. We didn’t know in advance that we were going to do this, so what you hear is what was going on.”

Oh, I get it — shut up and play.

The transcriptions on pages 94 and 95 are four examples from “Israel.” The first two six-bar phrases come in answer to six-bar phrases from Kikowski at the beginning of the track, as they trade half choruses of this 12-bar tune. The following 12-bar phrases are from later in the tune, when Kikowski and Haynes trade full choruses.

As it is highly unlikely that any of us will get the chance to play with Coltrane (unless there’s a great jam session in the afterlife) or anybody who plays in the same league, we have to take our musical development where we can get it. Hopefully these transcriptions of a true jazz drumming master will help the effort.

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