Louis Hayes – Flexibility and Imagination

Louis Hayes and Peter Erskine

Louis Hayes and Peter Erskine

There’s a recording of a radio broadcast of Cannonball Adderley’s Sextet performing at the Five Spot in NYC in 1965 that I’ve been enjoying for a while. The band (Cannonball on alto, Nat Adderley on cornet, Charles Lloyd on tenor and flute, Joe Zawinul, Sam Jones, Louis Hayes on piano, bass, drums) is ON FIRE. They play their usual hits but also some material from their latest album, selections from the Broadway show, Fiddler On The Roof. I recently went back to it to listen specifically to Louis Hayes on drums, and I want to share one track with you.
But first, some background:
I’m checking out an ongoing dialog between Ethan Iverson, John Halle, Allen Chase and others based on an article written by Halle for Jacobin. My read of this conversation (and I only skimmed a lot of it) is that Halle finds the Jazz community’s politics to be superficial, so it’s no wonder many find Jazz to be culturally irrelevant. One specific battleground for this argument is Joe Henderson’s 1967 recording of “Without A Song.” Halle chides Henderson for playing a song that has such awful, racist lyrics, and posits that this choice undermines Henderson’s political statements from the same era such as his albums “Power To The People” and “If You’re Not Part Of The Solution You’re Part Of The Problem.” In response, Iverson eloquently describes the multidimensional, kaleidoscopic issues and feelings that a Hard Bop tenor player might process when choosing a standard to play in the year 1967: politics, melody, Trane’s death, alternate changes, Billy Eckstine, alternate lyrics, beauty, simplicity, contrast, nostalgia, record sales, and so much else!
Let’s leave that whole hairy topic alone for now and get back to Louis Hayes. In his description of Joe’s “Without A Song” Iverson gives the drummer  a strong but qualified compliment: ” Mr. Hayes is one of the greatest bebop and hard-bop drummers, but no one thinks his major virtue is flexibility. [On this track] Hayes plays like a man possessed! For me it is Hayes’s best performance on the album.”
So this got me thinking. Perhaps Hayes didn’t choose to challenge himself by playing on the freer, avant-garde gigs that were blossoming in Jazz at that time, but certainly there are other ways of demonstrating flexibility and imagination in music. So here’s an example of just that, Hayes playing a little outside of the Hard Bop comfort zone on the Adderley Sextet’s live version of Jerry Bock’s “Chavalah” from the Broadway show Fiddler On The Roof. It’s a Joe Zawinul arrangement, a 6/4 bolero, that essentially just repeats the melody 5 times. No improvised solos, minimal original composition, just Louis Hayes building the groove over the course of four 10 measure phrases, then pulling it back to let us down gently on the 5th repeat. Of course Zawinul’s orchestration for the sextet is brilliant but I’m hearing Hayes’ flexible, imaginative groove as the absolutely essential ingredient that makes this performance work so well. Enjoy!

1 thought on “Louis Hayes – Flexibility and Imagination

  1. Lori

    That is beautiful, Jay! Loved it. (Though the announcer didn’t quite get the title right–it’s a soft ch, as in “chanukah” I think it means “little bird”.)



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