A few weeks ago I contributed a piece to a fellow jazz blog in which I discussed the ‘Ten Tubby Hayes Tracks I Can’t Live Without’, my nominations being part of an ongoing series in which jazz musicians of today choose seminal recordings by artists who most inspire them. As you can probably imagine, narrowing Tubby’s body of work – a body incidentally that continues to grow year in year out, largely through the discovery of previously unheard gig tapes – proved the devil’s own work. Mindful that my choices also plot the various stylistic leaps Hayes made during his all too brief career of just twenty-three years, what I was left with was a sort of stepping stone journey through his output with all manner of incidental recordings passed over in order to get to the next important record. I think the choices I made (which can be seen over at Sebastian Scotney’s excellent London Jazz News) pretty much covered the twin criteria of personal impact and objective importance, but the whole exercise set me thinking; what current releases of Hayes would I recommend to the lay listener, the person who may have heard his name and sampled a few select tracks but whom otherwise might only know of his reputation through the jazz grapevine?
A few years ago, I wrote a piece doing exactly this for Jazz Journal, summarising the various recent Hayes CD and vinyl issues in chronological order. By this time (2016) I was helped immensely in my summary by the fact that the Proper label had already issued two boxed sets covering Hayes’ career from 1954 to 1962 and, on top of this mother-lode, Acrobat Records has also issued a six disc set of The Complete Tempo Recordings, which as its name suggests includes all of the saxophonist’s output for the Decca-associated Tempo company between 1955 and 1959.
Before venturing any further along this track, I must declare an interest in that I helped compile and annotate all three of these releases, assignments that were close to a dream job at the time they were undertaken. Combined, these boxes effectively bracketed the first two phases of Hayes’ career, the first (beginning around 1954 and lasting to around 1957) being that in which, as a youthful sensation, Hayes synthesised his early style from a mix of bebop and cool. The second phase of his development as both an instrumentalist and a composer began around 1958 and lasted up until about 1964, and was characterised by a mastery of the contemporary language of Hard Bop. Hayes’ tenor playing during these years had the same roller-coaster energy as a Johnny Griffin, for example, while his writing (especially for small group) revealed ears closely attuned to the message of Horace Silver, Art Blakey and the whole ‘Blue Note’ school of jazz. By this time Hayes had ceased to be merely a local phenomenon. Indeed, in 1961 he made his first trip to the USA, playing and recording in New York with the likes of Clark Terry and Horace Parlan, this junket commemorated on the still astonishingly assured sounding Tubbs in N.Y., included on the second Properbox, Little Giant Steps.
However, owing to the current copyright laws surrounding sound recording, it was then impossible to make any further overview of Tubby’s later studio work (from 1963 to 1969) for the Fontana label, all of which was legally owned by the Decca/Universal Music Group. Back in 2005, Universal had released several CDs of Hayes' Fontana catalogue – including both his big band masterpiece 100% Proof and the album generally regarded as his finest ever recording, 1967’s quartet set Mexican Green – but these issues, welcome as they were, were compromised by poor audio restoration and indifferent graphics. Nevertheless, most of them quickly sold out, leaving the 'new' listener with a serious problem should they wish to explore mid-to-late period Hayes.
That problem evaporated in 2019 with the issue of Deccca/UMG’s massive The Complete Fontana Recordings 1961-69, which is one fell swoop slammed the whole of Hayes’ 1961-1969 output down in one enormous, and sumptuously produced, boxed set, available in both CD and LP format. To call this the ‘Complete Works’ may not be entirely accurate, but the standard of the production certainly made the set a hard act to follow. Every track had been painstaking remastered from the original studio master tapes; there were rarities and a host of previously unreleased material from albums such as 100% Proof and Mexican Green and, even better, the box also included Hayes’ final bows for the label – 1970’s pop-aimed The Orchestra (on which Hayes plays Bacharach and the Beatles) and the previously thought lost ‘last’ quartet album, Grits, Beans and Greens, begun in 1969 but never satisfactorily completed (this was issued as a stand-alone album earlier in 2019). Again, I was thrilled to have been brought on board by Decca’s Kevin Long as a consultant for the project which I regarded upon its issue – and in fact still do – as the definitive treatment of Hayes’ music.
Combined with the earlier Tempo set, which includes all of the albums made by the Jazz Couriers, the pace-setting two tenor quintet Hayes led with Ronnie Scott at the tail end of the 1950s, as well as his first genuine LP-length masterpiece, 1959’s Tubby’s Groove, the Fontana box does indeed complete the picture of Hayes’ musical journey. And although there have been a slew of intriguing and provocative live releases in recent years (recorded everywhere from Stockholm to Southend-on-Sea), which act as a sidebar to the studio albums, it can be argued that to understand Hayes' ‘message’ as he himself intended it to be understood all a listener need do is hear all his ‘official’ albums in sequence - that is to say those recordings he himself approved for commercial release.
Reducing a talent as gigantic as Tubby Hayes’s to two boxes, though, does seem rather out of keeping with his larger than life legend. Not only that, it omits a few studio-recorded appearances that any really eager Hayes’ fan ought not avoid. His two summits with Duke Ellington’s tenor star Paul Gonsalves – Just Friends (Columbia, 1964) and Change of Setting (World Record Club, 1965), for instance – both of which have appeared on CD in recent years but which seem to now be deleted. Likewise, Dizzy Reece’s 1958 Blue Note album Blues in Trinity (featuring guest trumpeter Donald Byrd) which, although not strictly a Hayes’ date, has his hand as firmly on the musical tiller as that of its nominal leader. All three of these albums are essential listening not only for their musical contents, which are uniformly first-rate, but for the propaganda value attached to them at the time they were made; so often hailed as ‘equal to the Americans’ Hayes was heard on these records actually proving that point, so effectively, in fact, that the ‘producer’ of Reece’s album, the late Tony Hall, maintained to his dying day that he’d never heard Hayes play better than on that particular session. Too often we regard such opinions as merely nostalgic. However, listening to, say, Close Up from Blues in Trinity, with its vividly ebullient blues solo by the tenorist, it’s hard to argue the point.
Although Hayes’ recording career as a leader was relatively short (a mere decade and a half), almost all of his stylistic choices were captured ‘officially’, save perhaps the final not always consistent flirtations with nascent jazz-rock, which can be heard felt on such releases as Ian Hamer’s Acropolis (Jasmine) on which 1972-73 Hayes features in some decidedly proto-fusion settings. More importantly for today’s listener is the fact that Hayes is now as well-represented in real terms as any number of his contemporary American idols. No longer is there the vain search that enthusiastic and curious believers of my generation had to make for the odd sideman titbit or, more costly still, the financially intimidating quest for an ‘original’ Hayes’ Tempo or Fontana. In the early 21st century, there is no excuse for any jazz fan to have not heard at least some of his work.
Dipping into these recordings in recent weeks I’ve been struck by two things in particular; Hayes’ astonishing consistency – like Zoot Sims he NEVER plays a bad chorus – and, more tellingly, his passion. This is still music that veritably leaps off the disc at you at either end of the great man’s career, be it 1955’s cork-from-the-bottle Jordu or the ornamented post-boppery of 1969’s For Members Only. And it’s that quality – more than the technically pristine delivery and an smack-on ‘time’ - that inspires me to this day. The intensity, purpose, drive and faith in his own direction Hayes had in abundance is the kind of thing which keeps me wanting to play (in every sense) his music. Just yesterday, on what must surely be the happiest gig I’ve played in an age, you could sense something very real, utterly tangible, completely communicative in the various Hayes’ themes we played, Don’t Fall Off The Bridge and Grits, Beans and Greens among them. They were urgent, charged and emotional music when first heard over five decades ago and they remain so to this day, and to me, that is Tubby Hayes’ greatest gift, the gift he has above and beyond all the talk of high-speed pyrotechnics and needle-point harmonic detail; the gift of sincere and charismatic communication. Like Fats Waller, Clifford Brown and Cannonball Adderley (all incidentally jazz giants felled too soon) Hayes had it in bucket loads. It’s unmistakable and unfakeable. It’s also the kind of thing that an audience can feel whether they are steeped in his music or not. It’s inspirational, timeless, heartfelt and true. And for me, it’s close to a credo, the very thing that made me strive – and keeps me striving – to be a jazz musician.
Photo: Summer in the city: Tubby Hayes in New York, June 1962 (photo: Val Wilmer)