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Tubby Hayes: Tubby the Tenor

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Tubby Hayes
Few English saxophonists could out-swing Tubby Hayes. In fact, many American jazz reed players of the '50s and '60s struggled to keep up. Listening to Hayes' recordings today without knowing who was playing would likely leave you guessing for hours. One of his most exciting albums (and there are many) is Tubby the Tenor, which was recorded on October 4th and 5th in 1961 in New York for Epic, Columbia's jazz and pop subsidiary.

Hayes was accompanied on the dates by a hard-charging trio—the eloquent blues pianist Horace Parlan, bassist George Duvivier and drummer Dave Bailey. And if those guys weren't enough, Hayes was joined on several tracks by trumpeter and flugelhornist Clark Terry and on others by vibraphonist Eddie Costa.

What's remarkable here is how at ease Hayes sounded and how fast and furious the ideas came to him. According to the album's 1961 liner notes by Stanley Dance, Hayes after the session took his horn to the Half Note to blow with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. Dance quotes Cohn as saying: “He came down and made us feel sluggish."

Hayes knew this session was a big deal. Put differently, Hayes was well aware that he was being teamed with some seriously tough talent, and anything short of a mind-blowing effort on his first New York record date would be viewed as a flop.

So days before the two sessions, Hayes headed to Columbia's studios and shut himself in a room for four hours at a time with just a piano, running through all of the songs' chord changes again and again. When it was time to record, Hayes was so familiar with the material that he was creatively free to whip out one idea after the next without worrying about song recall.

The first session began at midnight on October 4. Three hours later, a five flawless tracks were captured—enough to complete an album. Hayes and the trio recorded again the next night, and the same thing happened—track after track of perfect music. The musicians weren't alone in the studio. Word had spread about Tubby, prompting musicians like alto saxophonist Gene Quill and arranger-pianist Bill Potts to stop by.

According to the liner notes, arranger Manny Albam occupied a front-row audience seat during both sessions. Interestingly, Costa's appearance occurred because he happened to be playing at Birdland at the time, which was located a few blocks away. He  dropped by during his intermission to record.

Costa and Terry [pictured] are superb additions to this date, but the real maverick surprise is Parlan. The pianist was at his peak here, and I can't recall hearing him play more robustly on other session, from both an accompanist perspective and as a soloist.

Among the standout tracks are the swinger You for Me, the hard bop Half a Sawbuck and Soho Soul, which has a John Coltrane feel. Dig Eddie Costa's solo on Sonny Rollins' Airegin and Parlan's red-hot solos on Soon and Opus Ocean. Terry, of course, is superb on all of his tracks.

Hayes not only played tenor sax but he also could play the flute and vibes superbly. Sadly, Hayes died in June 1973 during heart surgery in London. He was just 38 years old.

JazzWax tracks: Tubby the Tenor featured only You For Me, A Pint Of Bitter, Airegin, Opus Ocean, Soon and Doxie. Tubby Hayes: New York Sessions, which was released in the CD era by Columbia, united all of the tracks from both October sessions, including Soho Soul, Opus Ocean, Half a Sawbuck, You're My Everything and The Simple Waltz. Fontana also issued the LP in the Netherlands as Tubbs in New York.

Unfortunately, this CD appears to be out of print and going for around $35 on CD—though it is available at some download sites. Hopefully Sony will reach into its Columbia vaults and reissue.

JazzWax clip: Here's Tubby with Paul Gonsalves on Tupa, recorded in 1965 in London with British sidemen. Hayes' tenor has the softer tone...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.

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