Forget the metronome, and don’t even bother trying to play like someone else, no matter how much you admire them.
“When I was young, I figured that out real quick, because it was uncomfortable; it didn’t work,” says legendary drummer Louis Hayes.
“You’re influenced by all sorts of things, and you can do certain things you’re exposed to, but you can’t really sound or play like anyone else,” the 78-year-old jazz master adds. “Everyone is different, and your body is shaped differently. Everyone, as the blood flows through our body, changes up all the time. We all have our own natural rhythm.”
That’s not to say a budding musician shouldn’t have heroes, or mentors. Among the drummers he admired most while growing up were Philly Joe Jones and “Papa” Jo Jones, whom Hayes considers his mentor.
As a teenager in Detroit in the early 1950s, Hayes was also exposed to many towering jazz figures of that era.
“Kenny Burrell. I thought he was the most magnificent guitarist I’d ever heard when I was coming up in Detroit,” he says. “You had people like Elvin Jones playing drums, and Tommy Flanagan playing piano. Barry Harris was there, Trevor Adams was there playing baritone saxophone, Dorothy Ashby playing the harp, Yusef Lateef, Paul Chambers – and they had a certain sound. People played a certain way in Detroit. And Barry Harris was a marvellous teacher for a lot of young people, and he’s still doing the same thing here in New York, and still teaching in different places in the world.”
By a strange irony, although his high school in West Detroit had a jazz program, Hayes never had an opportunity to play in the band. Still, by the age of 15 he was fronting his own band at local teen clubs.
“Detroit was a good place for me to grow up in and listen to these marvelous artists that I was listening to at the time, and the direction they were going in, and I was basically moving in the same direction.”
Bassist Doug Watkins was the vessel that brought him together with pianist/composer Horace Silver. Hayes was just 18 when Silver hired him as drummer for the new “hard bop” quintet he established after splitting with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
That also introduced the young drummer to a new town, where he still lives 60 years later.
“New York was the mecca where everybody wanted to be. I never wanted to live in California. I never wanted to live anyplace but in this area where I am. I haven’t found any other place so far.”
He was part of a larger migration of Detroit musicians to the Big Apple at the time.
“Naturally I knew those other guys in Detroit, but they didn’t know me too well, because I was about 10 years younger than they were,” Hayes says. “But I caught up in New York real fast, because I had the opportunity to come to New York about the same time that they did.”
Hayes was with Silver until 1959, when he went to work with alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and his cornetist brother, Nat, as part of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet.
He played with Adderley until 1965, when he replaced Ed Thigpen as drummer for the Oscar Peterson Trio for a couple of years.
Over the decades, Hayes has led numerous bands of his own and recorded 17 albums. But that just scratches the surface of his output.
The list of jazz giants he has played or recorded with reads like a DownBeat magazine Who’s Who of the art form: John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard. The list goes on, and on, and on.
Is there one band leader in particular he regrets not playing with?
“Sure. Miles Davis. I had the opportunity, but I couldn’t do it, because I was with Cannonball at the time, and that relationship we had was very high-level; I mean, it was family,” he says. “But I would have loved to have had opportunity to experience the feeling of playing with Miles Davis, and recording.”
That family relationship he had for six years with the man he calls “Cannon” still plays a prominent role in the drummer’s musical career. One of two groups he currently leads is called Louis Hayes and the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band.
That’s the group he will be bringing north for the season’s first Jazz on the Wing concert at the Yukon Arts Centre on Sunday, September 27.
Other personnel in the quintet are Vincent Herring on alto sax, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, pianist Rick Germanson and bass player Michael Glynn.
“Our program is subject to change is all we say, but we basically play music that I recorded during the period of time from 1959 to ’65 – that period of time that I was with Cannon.”
The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. For more information, go to www.JazzYukon.ca