At 93, Roy Haynes Remains a Nuanced Drummer

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Drummer Roy Haynes celebrated his 93rd birthday with a series of shows at New York’s Blue Note club during March.

(Photo: Dino Perrucci)

The middle of March was a wonderful time in New York for august gentlemen of jazz who still perform with strength, accuracy and charisma. The enduring skills of 93-year-old saxophonist Marshall Allen, at Brooklyn’s Elsewhere, and pianist Harold Mabern, 82, down in the wild basement den of Fat Cat, were on display.

Just as energetic, focused and supple was drummer Roy Haynes, also 93, who triumphed during a four-night birthday celebration at the Blue Note club.

Haynes’ past includes work with luminaries like Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Bud Powell and Stan Getz. And that was all before hitting the age of 30. At his second set on March 16, Haynes was a dapper, nimble figure, crouching at his kit with a wiry, coiled aspect, his shirt-cuffs unbuttoned and folded back. He sported one of the biggest ties known to mankind, very loosely knotted to allow maximum freedom of movement. He was joined by long-serving quartet comrades bassist David Wong, pianist Martin Bejerano and alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw.

Haynes is sensitized to tones, concentrating on the musicality of his tuned skins. He favors intricate rhythmic patterns that closely reflect the melodic structure of a composition. The set opened with him playing solo, establishing a feel for his bandmates to follow. Shaw reeled out his slick alto sweetness, while Bejerano poured out an uninhibited gush of notes, embellishing with great detail and finesse. Haynes still possesses a strong attack, but remains one of the most subtle percussionists around, starting with tiny rolls and building toward a rumbling onslaught.

Shaw switched to soprano for “Bemsha Swing,” penned by Haynes’ old bandleader, Thelonious Monk. Even though his touch frequently was light, Haynes still can drop a deep bomb, surprising with its sudden intensity. He held his snare-stick loosely, as though it had a life of its own, powering itself via gravity. Haynes displayed a rogue, unpredictable influence on this otherwise fairly straight-ahead quartet. His patterns were constantly bouncing in directions that listeners couldn’t anticipate and finding fresh accents. During “These Foolish Things,” Wong took a bass solo and Haynes went for a short wander, occasionally leaning back to make brief hits on a cymbal or a skin.

The bandleader used soft mallets to explore yet another palette, damping his hits and then began an extraordinary solo, which stretched into a seemingly endless eternity of magical minimalism. The entire club was completely hushed—which is a considerable achievement on a Friday night—as Haynes repeatedly snicked his hi-hat, finding slight shifts of emphasis and subtle variations. Haynes has a daring fascination for such extremity.

At the set’s close, the drummer passed his microphone to his colleagues, urging them to announce their names, as well as how many Haynes birthdays they’d been in his band for: Wong, 10; Shaw, 11; and Bejerano, 15.

Hopefully, there’ll be quite a few more for them to experience together. DB




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July 2021
Julian Lage
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