|Interview with Tubby Hayes (1966)...|
Extracts from an interview by Les Tomkins in 1966. Full interview is available at Jazz Professional website.
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 and I recalled that initial musical impact and asked if he had visualised at that time how much he would achieve in the jazz field.
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 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.
Meeting Ronnie Scott...
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.
Bandleader at 20...
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.
Small groups, Jazz Couriers and quartet...
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.
Tubby on vibes...
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....
Tubby on vibes (cont)...|
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.
Tubby on writing and arranging...
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...
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.
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.
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?....
Thoughts on Victor Feldman...
Victor Feldman 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.
Drummer Bill Eyden...
....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 (from the USA), 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 all 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.