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The English multi-instrumentalist Tubby Hayes chats to Les Tomkins in 1963 and 1965.
Interview: 1963 and 1965
Source: Jazz Professional
The “I knew him when” line in relation to a famous artist can be pretty tedious. But, in telling the Tubby Hayes story, it must be said that he was a remarkably impressive musician at I4—his age when I first met him.
Listening to his present–day demonstrations of tenor saxophone mastery, I tend to do a mental flashback to March, I950, when I was running a jazz club in a little hut near Raynes Park, S.W. (Tubby’s place of birth). One evening, a curly–haired, rather corpulent lad walked in, and asked if he could sit–in with the resident group, which included Lennie Hastings on drums. Somebody loaned him a baritone, as he didn’t have his tenor with him, and—as you’ve guessed—he proceeded to astound everybody.
The other day Tubby and I sat down to chat about old, new and in–between times. I recalled that initial musical impact and asked if he had visualised at that time how much he would achieve in the jazz field. Les Tomkins in 1966
No, he said. But I always wanted to play jazz. As a little boy of five or six I can remember wanting to own a saxophone. I tried to talk my father into buying me one, but he told me: ‘You’ll never be able to blow that, it’s much too big for you.’ So I had a few years on violin and piano - which I don’t regret, because it was a good grounding.
I never dreamed that I would fulfil a few ambitions, the biggest being to work in the States. Right from the start, when I was inspired by American jazz musicians, I never thought I’d get the opportunity of actually working in their company.
Tubby reminded me that it was later that same year that an important friendship and business association was opened up for him. The club had moved to larger premises and Tubby was a popular member of the resident group. A guest band appearance was made by a star tenorman, Ronnie Scott. We urged Tubby to ask Ronnie if he could play a few tunes with him. Eventually he did, and an exciting ‘battle’ followed. That night the foundations were laid for a fine five–piece which came into being eight years later—The Jazz Couriers.
The early ‘50s saw Tubby becoming increasingly known and recognised as a major voice on the British jazz scene. He spent a year with the Kenny Baker Sextet, of which he says: That was a lot of good experience. The best thing that happened to me there was working with Jimmy Skidmore. He’s a real natural player. I’ve never had any lessons on the saxophone, or anything like that—I’m self taught. I don’t know whether Jimmy’s ever had any lessons, but he taught me a lot in those days, travelling around. A wonderful guy and a wonderful musician.
Big bands were flourishing and Tubby—proving his dependability in section work—played with many of them, including Vic Lewis and Ambrose. He mentions his stay with the latter band as being significant in his musical development.
Phil Seamen was in the band and he was playing up a storm. He showed me a lot about rhythms and things I hadn’t thought about very much. Also I learned a great deal about arranging from Johnny Keating.
At the age of 20, Tubby embarked on a new venture, as a bandleader. He formed a group—three saxophones, two trumpets and three rhythm. Unfortunately, it. proved to be a financial disaster. However, he has no regrets.
It was tremendous experience. And they were good musicians—all very enthusiastic. It was a wild band—rough and out of tune at times—but there were times when it used to sound really good, mainly when we were playing at Glossop or somewhere like that! When we got intoTown everybody used to get the horrors, particularly if we were opposite a band like Ronnie Scott’s, which was the best around at the time.
But it did give me the experience of leading a band—and trying to get it over to the public. It was primarily a jazz band, though we did have to play some of the top pops. It gave me an insight from a business point of view, too, to know when people were sniding us and when they were on the level.
Also, through Harry South and Mike Senn, I got a chance to start writing. I’d always wanted to write and never had done. Both of them, Harry especially—who is a very fine writer—really showed me things. Having the band, I was able to experiment with some ideas that were probably very elementary—but it was a start.
In I956, on the demise of the eight–piece, Tubby began an association with the Downbeat Big Band, that dynamic 12–strong aggregation, to which many of Britain’s best musicians and writers contributed.
It started off as Jimmy Deuchar’s band, actually. He did most of the original arrangements. We got a few gigs. When Jimmy, Derek Humble and Ken Wray went off to Germany we didn’t do anything with it for a couple of years.
Then in ‘59 we started rehearsing again, and I assumed control. It wasn’t my idea, but I more or less took it over. Jackie Sharpe and I ran it between us. There was no money to be made, but we shared the cost of whatever arrangements had to be paid for. After Jimmy came back from Germany we operated right through I960 nearly every Monday at Manor House. We built up quite a library. Business was excellent at first, but it dropped off after a few months. People got bored, I suppose. Tubby has organised various big bands otherwise for broadcasts and recordings. His view is: I wouldn’t like to sit down and work in a big band all the time, but I like writing for it. The occasional excitement is good.
He has a positive preference for small groups and the last five years have seen him ringing the changes in this idiom. The Jazz Couriers lasted for two and a half years. Tubby looks back on it as a period that was a happy one, but bound to come to an end.
I’ve always admired Ronnie’s playing a lot, and Ronnie I like very much as a person. We had a very good time. I did practically all the arrangements for that group. But two tenors is a limited sound.
Towards the end, of course, Ronnie had ideas for opening a club, and I felt I wanted to be completely free and work on my own with a rhythm section. I didn’t want to be bothered with having to prepare arrangements all the time.
That did me good—a couple of years stretching out, you know. With the quartet I didn’t have any worries about writing, except if I wanted to do anything outside. But I got fed up with that in the end. Now I’ve got the quintet.
These small groups have exposed to the full the other facets of Tubby’s talent, notably his work on vibes, which, as he puts it, he uses more as a kind of frustrated pianist, rather than a Jackson/ Hampton type of vibes virtuoso. I haven’t got the technique on vibraphone to do half the things I can do on the saxophone. But I like playing mainly ballads and pretty tunes with nice changes, using the four hammers and things like that. Occasionally he uses flute, too, very effectively.
But it’s an instrument that’s got to be studied all the time. I’m mainly concentrating on my tenor playing—and vibes to the extent of using it for what I want to use it. And also my writing is what I really want to get into. There’s a completely different feeling when you’ve played a solo which you feel is good, as opposed to sitting down and writing—figuring the whole thing out. There’s satisfaction to be got from both, but two different kinds.
I’ve been writing some things with a view to the future—when the BBC put on the extra hours at night—for sixteen strings, four French horns, harp, plus my quintet. I’ve been trying to sell the idea to the BBC.
He had a very definite answer when I asked him if there was certain material he preferred to score.
Well, the way I look at it, whether I’m writing for the quintet, or for strings, or for a big band, I would rather arrange standards or my own themes than copy things off records or take down, shall we say, American compositions and adapt them.
And I think that’s one of the best things about our group at the moment. There are one or two exceptions, but the majority of the library is either originals by Jimmy, myself, or whoever else has written them, or standards. Standards are great. If you’ve got a lovely tune to arrange there’s nothing better, is there ?
We don’t play very many American jazz compositions. I’ve nothing against them, of course—some are marvellous. I just think it’s about time we did some things of our own.
This combination of integrity and musicianship is responsible, possibly, for his getting a TV showcase For British modern jazz—and for his landing a contract with Fontana Records.
Another contributory factor is his philosophy. It’s no good waiting for somebody to put something in your lap. You’ve got to go out and do it for yourself
Like - I’d been recording for Tony Hall at Tempo Records - which was very good. I’ve got nothing against that. Tony gave us loads of LP’s to do of different jazz things, myself and Ronnie and Jimmy Deuchar and people like that. But you could only buy them in Dobell’s. You couldn’t buy them anywhere else.
So then I was a bit fed up with this and I thought about it. I thought of doing this big band album and so forth. I went to Jack Baverstock with the idea and he said: ‘OK, let’s have a go’—so we did it (Tubbs) and through that we’ve done five albums in less than two years. So I’ve got no complaints there.
But I think if I’d just sat back and let it ride I probably wouldn’t be recording for anybody, because I don’t think Tempo exists any more.
Being on the Fontana label means his records are also issued in the States. Which is a good thing, in view of the fact that the name Tubby Hayes has come to mean something over there, due to his appearances at the Half Note in New York, an exchange deal promoted by Ronnie Scott.
His main impressions of the New York scene ?
For one thing—75 to 8o per cent. of the musicians that I met over there are very much more conscientious than they are over here—because it’s tough. Even if they’ve got a name—there’s so much competition. And at the same time it’s a terrible rat race. It’s not easy—and, you know, people will soon turn round and row you out of something if they can.
But there is a lot of enthusiasm—and a lot of hard work, which is probably why they come up with such good players. What surprised me was the fact that there were so few clubs, really, for the size of the place and the number of musicians who were there. There’s Birdland which only employs musicians who have really big names, like Horace Silver, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie’s orchestra. Nobody who’s not known. They don’t get a chance. The Village Vanguard might have the Miles Davis Quintet—and with him they’ll have Irish folk singers, and all that kind of thing. The Half Note is a good club. They don’t pay such good money, but they have some good musicians working there.
On each of his New York visits Tubby has had the opportunity of recording with American jazzmen. During his first trip he had people like Clark Terry and the late Eddie Costa as session mates.
This time I did one with Roland Kirk, James Moody, Walter Bishop, Jr., Sam Jones and Louis Hayes. It was good—I enjoyed that. I played vibes as well on that one. Roland, of course, went right through the card, and Moody played the flute as well as the tenor. There were some nice things on it.
Ever since he started getting so much praise from American musicians, prophetic rumours have gone around suggesting Tubbs will settle in the States. He admits that the idea has crossed his mind.
I haven’t made any definite plans. I would like to go over and work there for a while—but I do think that in a few years time it won’t be quite so important. Jazz is getting so international. And we’re getting American musicians working over here.
The only trouble is, of course, we do still lack it sadly in a lot of ways in the rhythm sections. But I’m sure they would improve if they had more chance to work with Americans.
Now I’m sure tenor players here have benefited by listening to Zoot and Al and Dexter and Lucky Thompson and so on. If we could have Art Blakey, Max Roach, Joe Morello—whoever you name—in the clubs, playing with our musicians, not on the concert stage—if our bass players were to sit in with them, and the drummers likewise with American bass players—it would do them a lot of good.
In this country if you’re looking for a drummer for your band you might go down to a club, stand at the back and think: ‘He sounds good’. You get up on the stand with him—he sounds bloody awful !
You can’t tell, really, by listening off the stand. I mean, you can get an idea of whether it’s good or not—but you can’t tell whether you personally would like to be playing with him until you’re actually on the stand working.
There are times when I will not use those fast runs and things—and there are times when I will. Sometimes I do it out of sheer exuberance—and get carried away with myself and get things going. It’s not to flash off at the customers, believe me, because half the time I don’t even know they’re there when I really get involved in what I’m doing. The only time I’m conscious of the customers being there is when I’m not really feeling myself. If I feel suddenly: ‘Oh—it’s all happening’ I might get carried away—but, on the other hand, it might happen one night that I feel the rhythm section is bugging me. Maybe it seems to be dragging down or not swinging as it might—than I might lose my temper and start doing it that way, as if to say: ‘Come on!’
But I read these things where people say ‘too many notes’ and so on, and, quite honestly, I couldn’t give a damn. I play as I want to play. And I can play a ballad. I love playing ballads.
I mean, a set is a set. I don’t go on and say: ‘Right—we’re going to play a slow one, a fast one, a medium one, a ballad and a tear–up.’ That’s not jazz. That’s more like show band business.
We go on the stand and we may feel like playing something down—or we may feel like playing fast ones all night. Again, it’s purely self expression. Maybe you could fault me there for not really catering for the public. But if I was catering for the public I wouldn’t be playing what I’m playing. I’d be playing the old twang–twang, wouldn’t I?
Making my fourth appearance in the States, as part of the exchange scene with Ronnie’s club, I was fortunate enough this time to get two weeks at Shelly Manne’s club, the Manne–Hole, in Los Angeles. I was also very fortunate to work with Victor Feldman’s trio. That was a most enjoyable experience. As you know, I’ve known Victor for about 15 years and worked with him in the past over here on several record dates and in the clubs. He has a very tightly–knit trio now, with Monty Budwig on bass and Colin Bailey on drums. They’ve worked quite a bit together.
I took over some of my original material, plus a few of the arrangements of standards that I use with the quartet here. We also did some of the things Victor had written, mainly to feature him on vibes and me on flute, which made a contrast to the tenor–and–three–rhythm type of thing.
I didn’t bother to play the vibes, because his playing is so tremendous that anything I did would have been quite superfluous. From the musicianship point of view, it was wonderful to work with the trio. I wouldn’t say it was better than working with Cedar Walton’s trio, which I did in New York last year, because that was fantastic, you know. This was a different sort of feel in a lot of ways, but equally as good, Victor can hold his own anywhere, I think, on piano or vibes. And he’s brilliant when it comes to piano backing for a soloist. He thinks one step ahead of you all the time, without actually bugging you. Like, certain piano players I know think one step ahead of you, and they play what you’re going to play—and mess you up something horrible. Whereas, Victor will just suggest little things. And you find yourself doing things, not that you thought you couldn’t do, but that you’d never thought of doing. It’s beautiful—gets you tingling all over.
He’s putting ideas into your head—without actually knocking on your head. He’s always had that ability, but I’d sort of forgotten about it. Working with him every night, I found that, where I might go into the same kind of thing two nights running, he’d switch me away from that and make me do something different.
On the opening night, George Shearing came down and sat in on piano. Victor went on the vibes and we played a couple of tunes—Soon and Nardis, I think it was. I went all the way to Los Angeles, and I’m up on the bandstand with three Limeys and one American!
While I was there I did a couple of television spots, one of which was George Shearing’s own show. Mel Torme and myself were the two guests on the programme. George has got quite a good quintet these days, with Joe Pass on guitar, and people like that. The other thing I did was an hour–long panel discussion on jazz. Leonard Feather was the chairman, and Don Ellis, the avant–garde trumpet player and composer, and a pianist called Jack Wilson also took part.
What impressed me a lot was the amount of coverage they give you on the radio. Admittedly, it’s the specialised FM stations, where they run jazz programmes more or less round the clock. For instance, one of the interviews I did was two hours long. We sat talking, and I played my records, including the ones that aren’t released in the States, like the big band album; which I took with me.
I was doing radio interviews all the time. I could do one of those pretty well whenever I liked. It was not only a very good plug for me, but also for Shelly Manne’s business. Because a lot of people who may never have heard of me, which is quite probable in the States, would listen to this on the radio and maybe come to the club.
And I think it did affect the business. We had a tremendous first night, but it was all the musicians and old friends from England and such. Then we had a few dodgy nights. But once these interviews and things started coming on the radio, and the TV things, business picked up tremendously. And the second week was pretty good all the time.
As for the jazz playing scene, I don’t think it’s quite so tough there as it is in New York—but at the same time, perhaps that doesn’t lead to quite such good music. I don’t say it’s easier to make a living, but it’s easier to survive on the West Coast.
But New York is where all the new things are starting and the pace is so much faster there. Over in Hollywood, I would say the pace is similar to what it is in London—but, of course, the climate’s so much better; and the standard of living appears to be better.
The amount of jazz work there is for people like Victor and Colin Bailey is not so great, actually. Victor does tremendously in the studios. I found there (as I found in New York, and I think Ronnie has found the same thing here and it more or less applies throughout the world) that, to survive these days in a jazz club, you’ve got to book the real big names, like Miles, Coltrane, Diz.
Shelly told me himself that he tried to survive putting his own band in and people like Victor. At first it worked and then the public got blasé, because they’re considered local guys, and all that. So he, like Ronnie, has had to maintain a bigname policy. What did I think of the club? Well, I was surprised, first of all, by the decor of the place. It’s laid out on the lines of a broken–down Western saloon. I expected something a bit more sprauncy—this being Hollywood. It wasn’t filthy dirty, or anything like that. I suppose that’s the style they’re after, but personally, I would prefer to play in less rough and ready type of surroundings. I think it gives jazz a little bit more of a good name, and we need it. Not so much because of what people do to give it a bad name, but because of what people try and sling at it. You know what I mean?
The audiences in Shelly’s were great. You could hear a pin drop when I played a ballad, or when Victor was playing the vibes, something like that. They were a really appreciative audience, and I was told that they’re pretty discerning, too.
Sometimes they don’t go berserk, but they were very good to me, I must admit. Except, maybe, Saturday night, but I think that’s the same anywhere. You get the out–of–town people come in and get drunk noisily—you know, the tourist element.
I’d say it was about the same age–group as it is here—it’s not a teenage audience any more. The majority of people that were in there were 25 to 40, I suppose. Some were older. In fact, we had a whole load of Hollywood studio musicians, especially the flautists and woodwind players, who came in to hear me play.
I met the guy from England who’s regarded as one of the greatest classical flautists in the world—Arthur Cleghorn. He’s working out there. Bob Burns, Frank Reidy and people like that know him pretty well. I’d never met him before, but he’s a wonderful guy. He came in about three or four times and listened. I felt a bit of a twit, standing up there blowing my 12 bar blues in F, you know. But he told me he really dug what I was doing. No, we didn’t have anybody sitting in. We had so many arrangements and things worked out, Victor and I, that we didn’t need that. Shelly’s band used to play opposite us at the weekends, and they were good.
I’ll tell you one thing. Obviously, I’ve always regarded Shelly Manne as a very fine musician, but I never really thought of him as a real swinger as a drummer. I had a very pleasant surprise. I’ll take back anything I’ve ever said. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything in the Press about Shelly, but I’ve often remarked to friends of mine that, from records, I didn’t dig him too much.. But, honestly. his playing knocked me out. It was so alive, so swinging–and sensitive, listening to what’s going on.
I did a gig with Stan Levey on drums. He’s got excellent time on the drums, beautiful beat and everything—but he didn’t startle me, you know.
There was another piano player used to come and play with us some nights. Because Victor’s so busy, he used to have to put a dep in for the first set, sometimes, while he was doing a TV show, or something. This young guy, Mike Melvoin, wasn’t quite up to Victor’s standard, but he was good and we used to have a lot of fun.
I didn’t get too much chance to get around and listen to other things, because, fortunately, I was working all the time! I did hear Harold Land, who impressed me very much. I’ve always liked his tenor playing, and I made a special trip out to Long Beach on a Sunday afternoon to hear him—and he sounded great. He was working with Freddie Hil1 on trumpet, John Houston on piano, Monk Montgomery on bass and Donald Bailey on drums. That was a very good session.
I also heard Paul Horn’s group, briefly. I wanted to really hear them, but they were on at the same times as I was, all through the week. I went down there on a weekend. They were playing at a place called The Scene, on Sunset Boulevard, which was quite a drive from where I was playing. This was a very plush club—a lot of nice–looking birds there, too!
When I got down there, there was nobody playing. So we sat there and had a drink, and eventually they came on the stand. It was a free form sort of a band, but pretty well–organised. It was very interesting—I would have liked to have heard a couple of sets. But I heard about three–quarters of a number, and had to split, and go back to work.
I went to another place, called the It Club, where I heard George Braith, who plays alto and soprano. A very good drummer was with him—a young guy, Mel Lee. We went in on a Monday night, because that was my only night off. But Monday night is everybody’s night off, so it was a very quiet scene.
Then I went up to San Francisco for a couple of days, just to have a look at the place, as I’d never been there. Business in the clubs up there was fantastic. On a Monday night, it was packed out. I went to listen to Cal Tjader—it was a very nice, very pleasant kind of quartet—just vibes, piano, bass, drums, and a bongo player, Armando Peraza, joined them. It was very exciting, and most enjoyable, but just a little bit commercial—a bossa nova kind of scene. The audience was knocked out with it.
At another place, John Handy, the alto player, was working with a guy on violin and a rhythm section. They played one number that went on for about an hour, with one chord, and it was deafeningly loud. We were sat right on top of the band, and I wouldn’t like to criticise, or say anything about it. Because it was just one of those things—like, the microphone on the violin was picking up the drums, you see, all the time! I couldn’t concentrate—I just had to get out quick.
I liked San Francisco as a city, but there’s no studio work at all. All the studio sessions are in Los Angeles. And, if ever I thought of going out there, on a permanent or semi–permanent basis, as much as I liked the look of San Francisco from those couple of days, I couldn’t go there, because of the studio situation. But, there again, I think there’s more jazz work.
There’s a big street, Broadway, where all the jazz places are. Anyway, I’ve got a chance of going back in six months or so to Shelly’s and also to a club called The Trident, in Sausalito, which is just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. That’s a very nice–looking club.
All in all, I had a very wonderful time. I came straight back from there and did two nights at Ronnie’s. And I’d just like to mention one thing—not having been working with too regular a group lately, and in view of the troubles that we do have with drummers in this country. The ones that are any good are always working, and so you get lumbered, of course. So I was very fortunate the first weekend I came back, and also certain nights since then, to work with Bill Eyden.
I know he’s working with Georgie Fame, and all that, but I’ve always thought of Bill Eyden as one of the best drummers around these parts. And, believe me, having worked with Albert Heath, Stan Levey, Colin Bailey, Mel Lewis and people like this in the last twelve months—I came back, and as much as I enjoyed working with Victor, it was an equal pleasure to play with Terry Shannon, Jeff Clyne and Bill Eyden.
I only wish I could use that rhythm section a11 the time. If I could, I’d really be happy, but, unfortunately, these days I don’t want to get too involved with a regular band. I’m doing so many trips abroad, that it’s not fair on the guys. You know, you go away and they’ve got nothing for two or three weeks. So they’ve go to look after themselves, and I can only use this lot when I can get them.
It’s getting to a very sad state of affairs here now, where there’s about four drummers, and you can never get any of them. I don’t know what to think about it all. There’s some young guys who can play a certain amount. But there’s a sad scarcity of the ones who can really play as much as you need to make the thing, I’m afraid. Maybe there aren’t enough places for them to play, and maybe the competition isn’t fierce enough. I’d like to get Albert Heath to come over here—he’s in Sweden. He’d probably liven ‘em up a bit. It does have an effect. I know that whenever I’ve gone to the States—although I’ve often been there and thought: Oh, it’ll be nice to get home—but, at the same time, you come back with renewed enthusiasm, because of the competition that you’ve been faced with.
Especially in New York. Like, I had to follow John Coltrane into the Half Note. Then there’s Stan Getz and Zoot and Al sitting there listening to you—it does certainly gee you up a bit. You can’t afford to coast. You’ve got to try and be on top form as much of the time as possible.
I’m not putting England, or London, or any of the musicians down, but I do think that the environment tends to make you a little complacent at times. And that includes myself, when I’m here for too long.
Things might improve if they opened up London, and let us use who we want to use, when we want to use them, regardless of what part of the world they come from. If I wanted to get a Belgian piano player, for instance, because I thought he was a good player, then let me get him.
I know a lot of people would say: Oh, no, we’ve got to look after our own musicians, and that’s why they made this barring thing in the first place years ago. But times have changed, and the world has become a much smaller place in the last 25 years. I think it’s time they let everybody work on their merit, instead of keeping it a closed shop. I really do. Music is international. I’ve just come back from Germany, where we had a 20–piece band, which included five guys from this country. Ronnie Stephenson on the drums shook everybody up. They’ve never heard a drummer from England who could do this kind of thing. Johnny Scott wrote a composition called Jazz Essay, which I can only describe as modern, contemporary music, and that shook a lot of people. It was a hard thing to play, you know. Keith Christie, Ronnie Ross and I—we shook a few people, too. The five of us can hold our own with anybody, And the rest of the band was excellent, and everybody had a ball.
Why can’t we do something like that here? Why can’t I go to Terry Henebery, and say: Look, I want to get the cream of the European musicians, and the expatriate Americans, and bring them over, and you at the BBC put on a TV show and a concert. This is what we did in Germany, and it was recorded at the same time by some record company. And everybody writes. Like, we get Jimmy Deuchar and myself and some guys from Germany to write some things, and do that. It can only improve the standard of musicianship.
We look forward to those things, but why do we always have to go abroad to do them? Why can’t we do them in our own country?
Copyright © 1966, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved
Read this other NJA interview with Tubby Hayes:
Interview Two: Live at Ronnie Scott's