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In Praise of Roy Haynes: A Take Five Tribute to the Peerless Jazz Drummer, As He Turns 95

Roy Haynes, the inexhaustibly propulsive drummer, bandleader and NEA Jazz Master, turns 95 this week, on March 13.

In his honor, we’re devoting this week’s Take Five to a handful of his indelible performances on record and on film. Our announcers chose four of the picks, with a personal story for good measure; our editorial director couldn’t resist making a selection too. Happy listening — and don’t miss the slideshow above, featuring vivid recent photographs by Jonathan Chimene. This one’s for Roy! 

Roy Haynes, “James”


If Marvel had a jazz superhero, Roy Haynes would be the one. Defying time, he’ s singlehandedly unearthed the Fountain of Youth. He is jazz history, and the heartbeat of countless defining moments in jazz. On this version of Pat Metheny’s “James” (from the 1994 album Te-Vou!),  joy pulsates with his every Snap, Crackle & Pop. His polyrhythmic wonder bristles with syncopated fireworks and shimmering tonality. It’s an earful, demonstrating how finesse and rhythmic ammunition can create the perfect groove. No wonder Metheny calls Sir Haynes his “Number One Hero on Earth.” — Monifa Brown

Roy Haynes Quartet, “Snap Crackle”

Though he’d proven himself an indispensable drummer by 1962, and had made a few well-received albums, Roy Haynes took a leap forward with Out of the Afternoon, which Impulse! released that summer. Driving a dynamite quartet with Rahsaan Roland Kirk on reeds and flutes, Henry Grimes on bass and Tommy Flanagan on piano, Haynes shows definitively that he has the instinct of a leader. A capsule review in Billboard at the time took note of “drumming that’s woven into the musical context as in ‘Snap Crackle’” — a perfectly on-the-nose appraisal. Listen, too, for the “Roy! Haynes!” at the top of the track, which is an in-joke nod to Sarah Vaughan’s “https://youtu.be/Xl0lFLLKW0M">Shulie-a-Bop,” from the previous decade. — Nate Chinen

Andrew Hill, “Smoke Stack”

Roy Haynes is perhaps the first drummer of his generation to redistribute the role of timekeeping to each member of an ensemble — allowing the percussion to become an equal catalyst in a group, instead of functioning solely as a guidepost. His performance on pianist Andrew Hill’s 1963 composition “Smoke Stack” sets a benchmark for modern improvisational drumming. Weaving in and out of the two-bass tandem of Richard Davis and Eddie Khan, Haynes never seems to run out of stamina. In fact, he displays endless creativity and invention, from intro to ending, that could stand alone as a most impressive drum solo —a level of mastery that clearly engages and inspires Hill. — Greg Bryant

Roy Haynes, “Blue ‘n’ Boogie”

This clip — from a Highlights in Jazz Charlie Parker tribute in April 1973 — is a mini-history in jazz drumming. Roy opens Dizzy Gillespie’s classic “Blue ‘n’ Boogie” by keeping time on the hi-hat, in a throwback to the swing era. Notice the tuning of the drums, particularly the snare. It’s high, mighty and in your face: an influence from his old friend, Puerto Rican drummer and percussionist Willie Bobo. The coup de grâce? Roy's incredible solo. It’s conversational, employing stick click effects, melody, mallets, mayhem — and a coolness factor, as Roy takes off his jacket while playing the bass drum. The most important part? It’s timeless. — Bobby Sanabria

Roy Haynes & Birds of a Feather, “Barbados”

One night in the early 1990s, Roy Haynes had a gig at the Keystone Korner Tokyo. We’ve been friends since the late-‘60s, but I was living in Tokyo at the time, and it had been several years since we’d seen each other. As I walked into the club, there was Roy at the bar sipping a cognac. I slid up to him and softly said “Hey Poppa!” Roy, raising the glass to his lips, turned, looked at me and said “What? I’m supposed to be excited because you walked in?” He finishes his sip, puts the glass down… and turns to me with a wide grin and a hug. “Damn! Good to see you!”

Cats always talk about hipness; one form of that is self-control, and it was on display there with Mr. Snap, Crackle & Pop. We both claim Barbados in our family blood line, so I’ll choose Roy’s version of the Charlie Parker tune, which he played many a night with Bird. — Rob Crocker