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The Long Shadow of the Little Giant

SIMON SPILLETT - who is currently researching a book on Tubby Hayes - provides an overview of this brilliant saxophonist's short career. He looks at his impact on fellow British jazzmen and how he raised the game to the level of the American modernists, the changes in his approach as illness bit deep, and how he was willing to incorporate aspects of free jazz and rock music into his established musical fabric in a way unlike his contemporaries...

The death of Tubby Hayes in June 1973 brought to a close one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of British jazz. Tubby's multi-talented abilities as a saxophonist, vibraphonist, flautist, composer, arranger and bandleader had been central to the trajectory of jazz in the United Kingdom for close to twenty years. As more than one musician associated with Hayes noted at the time, his death left an almost improbably large gap within a jazz scene which, if robust enough to carry on without him by the early 1970s, was still nevertheless relatively contained. Only a few years before, the very notion of British jazzmen holding their own at an international level would have been all but risible; yet by the close of the 1960s the news that guitarist John McLaughlin and bassist Dave Holland were being headhunted by Miles Davis was greeted not by surprise, but with a certain amount of jingoistic pride. No one musician had done more to raise the game of the local performers in the preceding decade than Tubby Hayes; his story was as much about the personal cost of his dedication to musical excellence as it was his overcoming the inertia of his surroundings; his story remains one of lasting impact.

Tubby Hayes' ongoing appeal is virtually unique amongst British jazzmen of his era. Figures celebrated in their own lifetime, such as the drummer Phil Seamen or the saxophonist Harold McNair (both of whom also died young in the early 1970s), have achieved a kind of posthumous apocryphal value but their music is now all but forgotten. The music of Hayes, however, still possesses a charisma and vitality that ensures it is remembered both by fans and fellow musicians. The latter have perhaps taken too long to reappraise Tubby Hayes; when drummer Martin Drew's Celebrating the Jazz Couriers band, formed specially to reprise the music Hayes had written and performed at the close of the 1950s, secured first place in the small group category of the British Jazz Awards in 2001, it was a victory tinged with irony. Hayes' music, played by a tribute band consisting of four musicians too young to have ever heard him play in person or to have performed with him, had snapped up a contemporary jazz accolade in much the same dynamic manner as Hayes himself had once done. What could be seen as a telling reflection of the state of jazz in the early twenty-first century transpired to be yet another reminder of the unending vitality of Tubby Hayes' music.

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buy the new 2 CD compilation of Tubby Hayes [compiled with booklet by Simon Spillett] :-
Blue Hayes : The Tempo Anthology

2 CDs: Jasmine, 2004

Twenty-five tracks compiled from recordings on Tony Hall's Tempo label, and including four tracks, previously unissued, of a live big band recording from 1969

FROM SIMON SPILLETT'S BOOKLET NOTES: "Until recently it would have been possible to argue that the music of the late Tubby Hayes was in very real danger of falling permanently into the worst kind of limbo that can befall the output of any creative jazz artist; that of being often talked about but seldom actually heard...."

Read this booklet essay in full on the Tubby Hayes tribute web site.


First And Last Words, The Jazz CouriersUnlike several other legendary British jazz musicians, the collectability of Hayes' vintage albums rests not only on their rarity but also upon their musical content. Even now there is a clamour of interest whenever any of his work reappears on CD or a newly discovered performance comes to light. One such example was the radio transcription discs recently offered for sale by the on-line auction house eBay, which eventually secured a winning bid of close to £2,500, whilst a new CD of previously unheard performances (Live in London, Harkit Records) has provided another valuable audio verite example of Tubby offering his rollercoaster ride of tenor saxophone in front of an enthusiastic club audience.

The Swinging Giant vol 1, Tubby HayesAnd it was in this live context that Hayes' tremendous presence was best appreciated. Imagine for a moment that it is 1959 and that you are a young jazz fan visiting the new Ronnie Scott's club in London; you descend the rickety staircase to the basement venue and are greeted by the overwhelming torrent of musical energy emanating from a small but rotund, sharply suited, incredibly confident looking young tenor saxophonist half crouched before a microphone. Hayes' music kicked in violent reaction to the austere and 'mustn't-grumble' attitude which hung over the United Kingdom like a fog even during the late 1950s, and spoke of a very un-British confidence and lack of reserve that made virtually everything else on the local jazz scene wither into insignificance. The Swinging Giant vol 2, Tubby HayesHayes' charm, charisma and authority made him, in the second-hand nature of British musical culture of the day, something of this country's regular stand in for a real American jazzman. The writer Dave Gelly summed up an impression of Hayes far better when he looked closer to home for an analogy: he wrote that Tubby "played Cockney tenor-garrulous, pugnacious, never at a loss for a word and completely unstoppable." One need only the most tangential knowledge of the British jazz scene of the time to realise that Tubby Hayes' live wire attitude sat somewhat uneasily with the polite and undemonstrative music of many of his colleagues, as it had none of the po-faced reserve that had come to characterize modern jazz in this country and it conveyed all the irrepressible good humour of its creator.

The Eighth Wonder, Tubby HayesAt a time when all eyes were on America, few English jazzmen commanded the respect and admiration of their peers in the way Tubby Hayes did - Allan Ganley, drummer in Hayes' 1962-64 quintet remarked that "Tubby made you play. And you always wanted to give your best because it was him." One could also name Ronnie Scott and Victor Feldman, two performers who had similarly helped raise the game of local jazz to an international level, but ultimately it was Tubby who became universally revered as England's greatest modern jazz musician. Unsurprisingly Hayes became a catalyst; a central figure of towering authority who stood out amongst a scene which, although not lacking in individual or even eccentric talents, was still remarkably bereft of a significant number of eminent ones. With British musicians today hopping regularly on and off the American continent, and with truly equal status irrespective of their country of origin, Hayes' achievements may now seem commonplace and scarcely raise an eyebrow, but in the 1950s playing the Americans at their own game was often little more than a pipedream.

A Tribute to Tubbs, Tubby HayesIt would of course be wrong to describe Tubby Hayes' 'world class' status as hard won; anyone gifted with the driven talent he possessed was going to be a star regardless of locale, but the circumstances and attitudes which surrounded him were not always conducive to his desire to succeed. "Nobody worked harder than Tubby," his friend and fellow saxophonist Bobby Wellins remembers, a recollection that applies just as much to Tubby's consistent attempts to sell his music in an unsympathetic climate as it does his quest to progress musically. Undoubtedly the initial impression Hayes made upon the local jazz scene boiled down to the remarkable combination of an incredibly secure technical command of his principal instrument, the tenor saxophone, and his youth, two qualities that never really deserted him.

Mexican Green, Tubby HayesBorn into a musical family in West London in 1935, Hayes turned to music as a profession at the age of fifteen, having played the saxophone for only four years. Although he was by no means the first prodigy in British jazz (the equally multi-talented Victor Feldman had made his debut as a performer at the age of seven!), he had as a teenager served in all but the briefest of apprenticeships in other people's bands, including those of Kenny Baker, Bert Ambrose and Vic Lewis, before forming his own band in 1955 at the age of just twenty.

buy CDs of Tubby Hayes :-

with the Jazz Couriers :-

First And Last Words [1957] further details

Some Of My Best Friends [1957-58] further details

The Couriers of Jazz [1958] further details

as leader :-

Blue Hayes: The Tempo Anthology [1955-69] further details

The Swinging Giant Volume One [1955] further details

The Swinging Giant Volume Two [1956] further details

Tubby Hayes: Portrait [1957-61] further details

The Eighth Wonder [1958] further details

Tubbs [1961] further details

Palladium Jazz Date with Cleo Laine [1961] further details

Costanzo Plus Tubbs - Equation In Rhythm [1961] further details

Late Spot At Scott's [1962] further details

Down In the Village [1962] further details

Tubbs: A Tribute [1963] further details

Tubbs' Tours [1964] further details

Live In London [1963-65] further details

Night And Day [1963-66] further details

Jazz Tete A Tete with Tony Coe [1966] further details

100% Proof [1967] further details

For Members Only [1967] further details

Mexican Green [1968] further details

Live 1969 [1969] further details

Quartet In Scandinavia [1972] further details

The recordings which Hayes made for the Decca offshoot label Tempo during this time reveal that his was very much an up-to-the-minute talent and comprise confident readings of many of the hip jazz themes of the day such as Peace Pipe, Opus De Funk, Jordu, Straight Life, Room 608 and May Ray, all delivered with the youthful élan of a wunderkind virtuoso at work. Although Hayes' technical command was unrivalled on the London jazz scene, it was the surety of his overall conception of modern jazz that made him differ from those players around him. Ronnie Scott, Britain's leading modern jazz musician and in the early 1950s its leading tenor saxophonist, had honed his skills through the somewhat hit-or-miss learning process of commercial dance bands and - outlining the time disparity between the United States and United Kingdom jazz scenes - he was already steeped in the work of swing players such as Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins before the great revelation of hearing Charlie Parker and bebop occurred. At eight years Scott's junior, Tubby made no such transition and considered Charlie Parker his primary influence. "I always wanted to sound like Parker," he later said; "he's my favourite saxophone player of the lot. There weren't any tenor players playing like that then." Any of the recordings cited above are evidence of Tubby Hayes' allegiance to bebop based jazz; yet they reveal also the awkward line British modernists walked in the mid-fifties, hamstrung between their artistic aspirations and their dance band apprenticeships.

Inevitably Tubby soon grew impatient with the polite niceties of making a living on this thinly disguised ballroom circuit. Ronnie Scott had expressed exactly the same sentiment as early as the ill-fated Club IX venture in the late 1940s, and it was in 1951 on a provincial club gig that Scott first encountered Hayes as a cherubic sixteen year old who enthusiastically asked if he could sit in on a number. Scott later recalled that he greeted this request with patronizing amusement before Tubby began to play, when, in Ronnie's own words, he "scared me to death." In 1957 the two men decided to pool their resources and form an exclusive jazz group, The Jazz Couriers, a quintet built upon the now classic format of two tenor saxophones and a rhythm section, and also upon the new wave of hard bop emerging from the United States which had simplified and made more direct the message of bebop.

Combining the talents of the two leading saxophonists in the country was a guaranteed success, but Tubby also relished the format as a chance to pursue his composing and arranging ambitions. Again Tubby was virtually self-taught in these demanding disciplines, and yet, as with his saxophone playing, there was never the slightest suggestion of naiveté in his writing. It says a great deal for Hayes' abilities as a tunesmith that his arrangements for the Couriers of standards such as Cheek to Cheek, A Foggy Day, Star Eyes, Love Walked In, Day In Day Out and What Is This Thing Called Love?, although undoubtedly the most popular items in the band's book, never overshadow his own compositions. Tubby's themes included on the four Jazz Couriers' albums - Plebus, Mirage, The Monk, Royal Ascot, The Serpent and others - are consistently excellent and reveal a writing talent that was to blossom further in the next decade.

The Couriers' music contrasted strongly with the more polite and unassuming approaches prevalent elsewhere in British jazz of the day. Although the principal attraction of the group was the inspirational two-way street between its co-leaders, the band's rhythm section, which centred upon the pianist Terry Shannon and the drummer Bill Eyden, also benefited greatly from Hayes' dynamic example. There was a certain novelty value in a British modern jazz unit that not only survived but thrived, and the group's overall confidence soon attracted international notice. When in 1958 the Jazz Couriers toured the Britain opposite Dave Brubeck, they gained a glowing endorsement form the pianist and his group. "They sound more like an American jazz group than we do," Brubeck commented, and it did not require the most prescient of minds to see that it was only a matter of time before Hayes crossed swords with his contemporaries across the Atlantic.

However, the petty feud ongoing between the American Federation of Musicians and the British Musicians' Union ensured that an opportunity for such an exchange was legitimately blocked. Nevertheless in the summer of 1958 Tubby's record producer Tony Hall supervised, with some subterfuge, a recording session in London featuring Tubby Hayes and led by the Jamaican trumpeter Dizzy Reece, one of the capital's finest jazz imports. The recording was a major coup for local jazz as it also featured two top American modern jazz figures, the trumpeter Donald Byrd and the drummer Art Taylor. The resulting album, Blues In Trinity, when issued in the United States by the prestigious Blue Note label, prompted the legendary drummer Art Blakey to short list both Tubby Hayes and Dizzy Reece for his Jazz Messengers group. Although this never happened, it is easy to hear why Blakey's was such a favourable reaction; Hayes was at the very top of his game, outshining even the imported 'star' guests.

buy the following books :-
Some Of My Best Friends Are Blues

Ronnie Scott with Mike Hennessey
Northway, 2004 (first published in 1979)
Paperback. 128pp. b&w cartoons by Mel Calman
Read Simon Spillett's review of this book
A Fine Kind of MadnessA Fine Kind of Madness: Ronnie Scott Remembered
Rebecca Scott with Mary Scott
Headline, 2000
Paperback. 352pp. b&w illustrations

Who's Who of British Jazz
John Chilton
Continuum, 2004, 2nd edition
Paperback. 416pp

Innovations in British Jazz 1960-1980Innovations in British Jazz
John Wickes
Soundworld, 1999
Paperback. 416pp

The first volume of a survey of British jazz, which covers the years from 1960 to 1980

Joe Harriott: Fire In His Soul
Alan Robertson
Northway, 2003
Paperback. 270pp
Read our review of this book

Dizzy Reece himself emigrated to the United States shortly after recording Blues in Trinity (ultimately pursuing a strangely under-achieving career) and from the late 1950s there were periodic rumours that Tubby Hayes was about to follow suit. Such debate often revealed the duplicitous nature of the day's music press; on the one hand mindful of the loss of Tubby Hayes to America, on the other hand critical of Hayes' bona fide qualifications as a true jazzman. The latter arguments concentrated in the main on Hayes' predilection for fast tempos. Tubby's immense technical power was both revered and used a stick with which to beat him. Hayes, it was said, had cultivated all the technical surface gloss to cover the still crippling handicap of being a white European jazzman. This argument would have held true had Tubby's music been characterized by a glib lack of emotional commitment or his virtuosity had no passion beneath it. Tubby himself was unequivocal in his answer: "I read these things where people say "too many notes" and quite honestly I couldn't give a damn." In fact the criticisms spoke more of the very peculiar British fascination with chastening a person who dares to become more than merely proficient at their craft than they did of any lasting deficiency in Hayes' music.

Hayes' records at this time, such as the quartet sessions contained on the albums Tubby's Groove, Tubbs and Palladium Jazz Date, reveal that his talents had matured into those of a consolidator, and represented what may well be the most perfect freeze frame of the finest virtues of jazz saxophone as it stood at the beginning of the 1960s. Hayes' favourites were many and included Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin and Sonny Rollins, and unsurprisingly his own style contained recognizable elements of all these styles; he could be as dare-devilishly intense as Griffin, as melodically graceful as Getz or as boomingly omniscient as Sonny Rollins, and the beautiful integration of these disparate sources was perhaps only achievable because Hayes operated away from the music's ongoing development. Had he been in New York, he may well have been swept along by the pace of change and become more idiosyncratic, but playing almost exclusively in the United Kingdom at a time when jazz developments in the United States were seemingly forever destined to be yesterday's news, Hayes had the luxury of being able to mature more evenly. That he did this in the main by listening to recordings is nothing short of amazing.

It was inevitable, then, that Tubby, charismatic and accomplished as he was, would attract his share of local disciples but such figures were slow to appear. Indeed, as Benny Green noted, there was a worrying gap between Hayes' generation of players and those that followed, and only in the early 1960s did players who were able to muster the same degree of athleticism as Hayes emerge. The teenage altoist Peter King stood out amongst them and deeply impressed Tubby, as did two young tenorists, Stan Robinson and Dick Morrissey. Morrissey's debut album cut in 1961, It's Morrissey, Man! is as much under the shadow of Tubby Hayes' work with the Jazz Couriers as it is under that cast by contemporary American jazz and time and again it contains the looping descending triplet phrases Hayes had made his own.

However, Hayes' ability to seem bang up to date was somewhat illusionary. By 1960, his old heroes were moving on; the modal experiments of Miles Davis were slow to filter through to the London-based modernists, and on the surface Hayes looked to have little use for the wide range of music of the new jazz innovators. The music of Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman was too random sounding to affect such a disciplined performer, and the brewing introspective movement within jazz, as typified by pianist Bill Evans' lonely brooding romanticism, would have struck many in Hayes' circle as almost emasculated. Closer to home, musicians like saxophonists Bobby Wellins or Joe Harriott and pianist Stan Tracey had begun to declare their independence from American role models.

Tubby Hayes' group of the time - a marvellous quintet featuring the lyrical Scots trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar - could in retrospect be seen as little more than a second hand tribute to the sort of sophisticated hard bop pioneered by Horace Silver five years previously, were it not for the engaging presence of Tubby himself. The live albums the group recorded at Ronnie Scott's club in 1962, Late Spot at Scott's and Down in the Village remain vivid snapshots from an era in which Hayes reigned supreme. Two further posthumous releases, Tribute to Tubbs and Night and Day, both culled from similar live sessions round out the picture superbly.

Indeed, Tubby was at his peak in the early 1960s, and it was during this time that he enjoyed some of his greatest triumphs; in 1961 he became the first visiting English jazz soloist to play a residency at a New York club, attracting audiences that included Miles Davis, as well as recording on American soil with trumpeter Clark Terry. In 1962 he returned to the United States for a further tour and to record with Roland Kirk. During the next few years he would also record with tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, appear in the movie All Night Long with Charles Mingus, and deputize successfully in the Duke Ellington band at a London concert. Another legendary jazz figure, the bandleader Woody Herman, repeatedly offered Tubby a place in his big band, but Hayes remained on his own course, and rich pickings were to result. He was winning musical awards incessantly, often in several categories including Best Tenor Saxophonist, Best Small Band and Jazzman of the Year, and he had the rare luxury of being accorded his own prime time TV show, Tubby Plays Hayes, a situation which now would strike any television commissioning editor as commercial suicide.

There were also new instrumental and bandleading departures. In 1957, Tubby had taken up the vibes after Vic Feldman had bequeathed his instrument to him before his return to the United States. With typical precocity, less than six months later Tubby was recording on them and sounding for all the world like Milt Jackson (on Reunion from the Jazz Couriers first LP). The vibraphone increasingly became Tubby's ballad instrument of choice. My Funny Valentine and Time Was from the Couriers' book and Young and Foolish and Embers from the quartet's repertoire were telling examples of his early skill with the mallets. With the quintet Tubby extended his virtuosity to exquisitely chorded four part harmony renditions of songs such as But Beautiful and Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, but while many observers found Tubby to be far more limited (and often more lyrical) upon this second instrument, there are plenty of on-record examples of a far harder hitting approach to the vibes. The title track of Down In the Village contains a technically impeccable solo, with many of Hayes' familiar tenor phrases woven into its fabric. However, although Tubby could have easily secured his reputation on vibes alone, he eventually abandoned the instrument in 1966.

In 1959 he took up the flute, again in quintessential Tubbs' style; he had gone to a music shop to purchase a new alto saxophone for a session date but emerged with a flute instead and was playing the instrument on a gig within days. As a flautist, Hayes claimed to play "like a trumpet player," although once again familiar patented saxophone phrases occurred regularly enough for his work on the instrument to remain recognizably his own. Flute features are scattered throughout Tubby's albums and include the impressive lyricism of In The Night, the driving pyrotechnics of A Night In Tunisia and his adaptation of Roland Kirk's eccentric style on Raga.

Flute and vibes made useful additions to Hayes' armoury in a small band, where instrumental texture benefits greatly from variation, and they also served Tubby in his burgeoning work as a session musician. In this capacity, Tubby played the whole range of single reed woodwinds and tuned percussion, but occasionally there were jazz dates on which he would be required to use baritone or alto saxophone besides his usual tenor. His baritone work was well showcased on Jimmy Deuchar's Pal Jimmy (recorded on the Tempo label) and the LP The London Jazz Quartet (a rare collector's item on Tempo but now reissued as part of Portrait on the Ember label) found him and Alan Branscombe (another prodigious multi-instrumentalist) swapping roles between alto, tenor, flute and vibes. Hayes' varied instrumentalism helped create further the legend of his being our answer to American jazz dominance: while many British jazzmen sounded as if they were struggling with one instrument, Tubby effortlessly juggled with several, never more impressively than on The Eighth Wonder (Tempo, 1958) where he played (via fairly primitive overdubbing, then in its pre-Beatles infancy) alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, vibes and piano simultaneously.

It was these ambitions as a composer and arranger that led Tubby to establish his own big band on a semi-regular basis from 1961. Away from the small band format of hard bop, his big band featured the kind of joyous swing for which the Woody Herman band was famed, and is concentrated on several albums; Tubbs from 1961 might be termed prototypical Tubby in a big band setting, and, with a tuba added but no saxophone section, it strongly recalls Sonny Rollins And The Big Brass session from 1958. Tubbs Tours, recorded in 1964 with a concept built around various locations and countries, was far more mature and captured perfectly the energy of Tubby's rare live appearances with the big band sought out by the jazz public in the mid-sixties. In 1966, a larger Hayes-led band taped what was his finest big band recording, 100% Proof. Again the LP was concept dominated, in this instance a tribute to some of Hayes' musical idols, including Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie, and in many ways, not least because of its concentration on bebop themes, the album looked backwards. However the title piece was Tubby's own composition; a veritable saxophone concerto written allegedly when one of Hayes' musicians dared to suggest he was going to attempt something similar, and it incorporated several tempo changes, from ballad to storming fast bop, and intimations that Tubby saw a much less orthodox approach on the horizon.

1966 was very much a pivotal year for Tubby. Late in 1965 he had collapsed through sheer exhaustion brought on by overwork and there were further health problems the following year; neither incident was helped by Tubby's increasing dependence on hard drugs. He had always drunk heavily with no apparent effect on his performance, but by the mid-1960s he was using serious narcotics with appalling regularity. Such stimulants may have ensured that solos of twenty-five choruses rolled off the fingers seemingly without effort, but these were now false achievements made by a body that was close to breaking point. The new slimmed down Hayes (his friends now re-christened him Tubey) had more to worry about than just weight loss; he had been sceptical about the emergence of avant-garde jazz and its leading light, Ornette Coleman, and was scornful of old influences such as Sonny Rollins when his music took a turn towards abstraction earlier in the decade, but neither factor was immediately worrisome for Hayes during his early decade run of glory. Only in the mid-1960s, when such experimentation found its inevitable way to the younger musicians on the London scene, did Hayes begin to rethink his approach. As early as the 1962-64 quintet he had felt frustrated by his colleagues' inability to look further ahead, and it became obvious that Hayes would have to find a different set of musical partners if he were to sate his curiosity about how far he could extend the envelope of his existing style.

In the summer of 1966 he formed a new quartet, comprising three younger jazzmen of a far more adventurous streak than his previous band members. On paper they certainly made an unlikely mix. Pianist Mike Pyne had worked in bands as diverse as Alexis Korner's Blues Inc. and John Stevens' avant-garde sextet; bassist Ron Matthewson came aboard from the unlikely resource of the Dixieland band of Alex Welsh; and drummer Tony Levin was completely unknown, hired by Tubby on the strength of an hour long jam at a club in Birmingham, and whose experience hitherto was confined to the local Midlands scene. Disparate as they may have seemed, collectively these men were to be crucial to Tubby's musical outlook over the next few years. Each of them reflected the changing attitudes to the expected role of the rhythm section, as typified by the Miles Davis quintet of the time. They had the ability to move from near abstraction to the tightest of structures and back again without ever losing a sense of musical cohesion, and each was a virtuoso soloist in a way quite unimaginable a decade earlier in Britain. Whereas some of Tubby's earlier bands were not strong enough to hold the attention if Tubbs himself was not soloing, the overall musical level was spread far more democratically in this new quartet, a tribute in part to Tubby Hayes raising the bar of British jazz to an international level in the preceding years.

Tubby himself was rejuvenated by such a healthy challenge. He had perhaps gone on for too long without having to deal with any rivalry to his eminence but few if any of his old contemporaries were willing, or indeed able, to move along the lines he now travelled. The gauntlet thrown down by these younger players also gave Tubby the chance to sweep away all the accusations that he had reached an artistic stalemate, and eased the bitterness he had felt when the jazz world experienced the knock-on effects of the beat boom and rock music in the preceding years. The band worked into 1967 (live sessions can be heard on the CDs For Members Only and Tete a Tete) and in the spring of that year it recorded what was to be Tubby Hayes' finest album, Mexican Green.

Although the album contained also his signature saxophone athletics and some tender ballad playing, it was the title track that made the greatest impression; a manifesto encompassing everything Hayes was then musically capable of, it moved in stunning fashion from free jazz to tight soul-bop, both extremes unified by the beautiful way in which the band interacted. The free jazz revolution had brought with it many charlatans whose qualifications for playing cutting edge music were as doubtful and slow as Tubby's reaction to it had been, and his new interest in experimentation seemed to say "no! this is how you do it!" The expectation of some was that Tubby might look embarrassingly old fashioned and self-conscious and that his band of Young Turks might eclipse him, but it was nearly the other way around and the sheer abandon of Tubbs' playing throughout Mexican Green is one of the glories of British jazz. Dated as some of the freak-outs may now sound, what is remarkable is how incredibly brave Tubby was to fully embrace a mode of expression so unlike that which had secured his reputation. Mexican Green was released in early 1968 to critical acclaim everywhere, and its success augured well for Tubby's future. But with cruel irony it came at a time when Hayes' personal life was in tatters. Already in ill-health, he took little heed of the warnings to slow down. Ravaged by drugs and drink, and disgusted with his playing, he turned reclusive and spoke to no one for nearly three months. This self-imposed exile straightened him out, but he was subsequently to be arrested and charged with narcotics offences. It looked as if Tubby's fortunes were fading fast.

1969 started a little more hopefully with the formation of a new quartet built around the Irish guitarist Louis Stewart and a new drum 'discovery' Spike Wells. The lay off had also given Tubby time to think about a new big band, which would reflect his new interest in free jazz and rock music, as can be heard on the Blue Hayes 2-CD compilation on the Jasmine label. By 1969, Tubby had overcome his initial knee-jerk reaction to the rise of guitar-based rock (or "the old twang twang" as he once dubbed it), and many of his sidemen were working in bands that attempted to fuse popular idioms with jazz. Tubby himself began an intermittent working relationship with Georgie Fame, and some of the new big band repertoire reflected rock rhythms; Tubby's piece A Song For A Sad Lady was one such early attempt, and later pieces in this vein included the deliciously titled She Insulted Me In Marrakech. Hard rock was never Hayes' musical vernacular, and consequently his interest in more popular forms of music centred on artists such as Sergio Mendes and Burt Bacharach, whose music had extended jazz influenced harmonies into the charts. Tubby's final studio album from 1969, The Orchestra, comprised such material, together with covers of hit by artists like Fifth Dimension, Nancy Sinatra and The Beatles, and it is as musically sound as could be expected. It remained a piece or work of which Tubby was (hindsight-induced cynicism suspended) justifiably proud.

Tubby worked with amazing regularity during 1969: Spike Wells diary lists no less than one-hundred and three gigs that year, mostly with the now settled Mike Pyne/Ron Matthewson rhythm team in the quartet. (The excellent Live 1969 CD, which documents one of Tubby's final gigs with this quartet, is among the most atmospheric of the archive retrievals which have surfaced in recent years.) Tubby's tendency to burn the candle at both ends had not been tempered by his recent ill health, and inevitably it was to be his health rather than his inspiration that let him down. In early 1970 doctors discovered Hayes had a faulty heart valve, and he underwent an operation a year later and was out of action for the whole of 1971. Much missed by fans and fellow musicians alike, several all-star benefit gigs assured Tubby that the London jazz community had not forgotten him. And there was a reminder of Hayes' ability to impress further a field on an international level when Stan Getz appeared at one such performance, a fitting tribute from a player who Tubby himself had once idolized.

When Tubby finally reappeared in early 1972, it was on a jazz scene seemingly in disarray. The avant-garde had wreaked havoc and in some hands seemed to be nothing less than an excuse for musical streaking, while jazz rock had ravaged the acoustic beauty of the music. Tubby had spent a great deal of time listening to this new music during his slow recovery, but if anyone thought that he himself had devised a new angle on it, they were about to be mildly disappointed. Tubby's reaction to all the chaos was to go out and do straight-ahead gigs with his reformed quartet, playing much the same repertoire as he had done a decade earlier: standards, ballads, blues and hard swinging original composition. He was also very briefly a member of the Bebop Preservation Society, a group which revisited the music from which Tubby had taken his initial inspiration. Even if he were in danger of appearing an anachronism, it was nevertheless marvellous to have Tubby back on the scene. Incredibly Tubby began his comeback with an overseas tour, making a successful trip to Scandinavia in February 1972, where he guested with local musicians and, despite suffering from headaches and nose bleeds, conducted and led a Norwegian big band through a selection of his repertoire. This tour is commemorated on the Storyville CD Quartet In Scandinavia, which contains a peerless reading of a ballad which Hayes came to love in his later years, I Thought About You.

Much has been made in retrospect of the slowing down of Tubby's technical skills after his long illness. This is a moot point. A forthcoming Jasmine CD contains what is certainly Tubby's final recording from spring 1973, barely six weeks before his death and it finds him playing with much the same degree of virtuosity as of yore. The health issue undoubtedly affected his stamina, but it seemed that Tubby still gave close to one hundred percent. On his last radio appearance with his own band, Hayes takes just two short solos, allowing others to occupy the space he would once have monopolized. He worked on until another collapse before what transpired to be his final public appearance in Brighton in May 1973. It was confirmed that the replacement heart valve was failing and that a second operation was necessary. Nevertheless, many of the friends who saw Tubby in the final days of his life found him almost quietly resigned to his fate, as if he knew that his work was done. He died undergoing surgery at 3pm on the afternoon of Friday June 08th 1973, aged thirty-eight.

The tragic and premature death of Tubby Hayes did not leave the loose end 'what if?' questions so typically asked of talented jazzmen who have died all too young. His career of a little over twenty years contained evidence enough of his being a truly mature talent and a forthright and honest musical voice. He had packed more than a lifetime's energetic enthusiasm into his art, and had become a well loved larger than life figure on the British jazz scene, but ultimately Tubby's greatest legacy was his proving once and for all that it was indeed possible to become a great jazz musician, to play in an idiom which in his youth was so quintessentially American, and remain within these shores. It is neither nostalgia nor jazz jingoism that ensures Tubby Hayes is remembered. He was indisputably the most accomplished and characterful British jazzman of his generation. His music ranks amongst the finest jazz of his day and still has the power to move those who, nearly fifty years later, encounter it for the first time.

© SIMON SPILLETTNovember 2004

"Tubby Hayes has often been lionized as the greatest saxophonist Britain ever produced. He is a fascinating but problematical player. Having put together a big, rumbustious tone and a delivery that features sixteenth notes spilling impetuously out of the horn, Hayes often left a solo full of brilliant loose ends and ingenious runs that led nowhere in particular... "

- fromTHE PENGUIN GUIDE TO JAZZ ON CD, Richard Cook and Brian Morton

Ronnie Scott & Tubby Hayes [photo copyright BRIAN J. DAVIES]

Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes

Read Simon Spillett's essays on the major British saxophone stylists from the 1950s to 1970s, British brass players, and British jazz pianists of the same period.

Read Simon Spillett's essay Yellow Birds: West Indian Jazz Musicians in London in the 1950s and 1960s

Saxophonist Simon Spillett leads his own quartet, which was featured in an article in the January 2003 issue of Jazz Review. He writes for Jazz Journal, and compiles and annotates CD collections for the Jasmine label. He is currently researching the life of Tubby Hayes.

This article is written exclusively for jazzscript.co.uk.


Tubby Hayes tribute web site:

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