Feature/Interview

10 Tracks by Tubby Hayes I Can’t Do Without… by Simon Spillett

In our series in which musicians do a “deep dive” into the music of their inspirations, Simon Spillett writes about ten of his favourite tracks by Tubby Hayes:

1. If This Isn’t Love – The Jazz Couriers (‘The Last Word’, 1959)

As with all the pieces chosen for this, I’ve started by picking something that has directly affected me as a performer. I bought ‘The Last Word’ from the fondly remembered Mole Jazz when I was eighteen and this track in particular just knocked me out. The synergy between Tubby and Ronnie Scott was at its height here – at times you can’t tell them apart. Timeless, straight-ahead playing from a band that literally changed the game for British jazz.

2. Tin Tin Deo – Tubby Hayes Quartet (‘Tubby’s Groove’ 1959)

From Tubby’s first LP masterpiece, this track was intended as a showcase for his ever burgeoning improvisational skills. It’s a magnificent performance on every level, almost a manifesto of his whole approach; time, tone, rhythmic ideas, harmonic thinking – it all adds up to definitive Tubby Hayes. The album itself gives a clear indication of where he would head in the next five or so years. This wasn’t merely great ‘British’ jazz – it was world class music, in every sense.

3. You For Me – Tubby Hayes (‘Tubbs in N.Y.’, 1961)

I first heard this album when I was fifteen, having borrowed it from a friend of my father’s. It connects on so many levels – as a souvenir of Tubby’s pioneering US debut it’s essential listening – and the unaccompanied tenor intro on this, the opening track, has seared its way into the subconscious of generations of British jazz saxophonists. It’s so bold, so confident, so technically and idiomatically together – a clarion call that seems to be saying ‘I’m here!’

4. Half a Sawbuck – Tubby Hayes Quintet (‘Late Spot at Scott’s’, 1962)

Taped at Tubby’s ‘spiritual home’ – the ‘old’ Ronnie Scott’s in Soho’s Gerrard Street – this track gives a flavour of what it must have been like to hear him in person, as well as illustrating how he could inspire incredible performances from those sharing the stage. On the surface, it’s his technical ability that dazzles most, though when you discover how unorthodox the piece’s chord sequence is you begin to appreciate his overall musicality. He’s fearless! And how he swings!

5. Opus Ocean – Tubby Hayes Quintet (‘Live in London Volume 1’, taped 1964, issued 2004)

When this album of informal recordings made at Ronnie’s by the late Les Tomkins came out, it revealed something hitherto unknown on record; Tubby playing breakneck unaccompanied solos. What strikes me most deeply though isn’t the speed; it’s the sheer physicality of his approach to the tenor. You can almost ‘feel’ this music hit you. Each note, every phrase, seems to be shot out of the tenor. Indeed, if there’s one track that seems to completely capture the sheer authority and confidence of Tubby, it’s this.

6. The Killers of W1 – The Tubby Hayes Orchestra (‘Tubbs’ Tours’ 1964)

The Tubby Hayes big band undoubtedly reflected the character of its leader, yet it was also home to some of the finest individual talents on the UK jazz scene at the time. This track is sheer nostalgia for me, taking me back to the weekend in 1987 when my father first played me this album. Years later, Allan Ganley (who plays drums here) told me Jimmy Deuchar had written this, quite complex, arrangement by torchlight in the back of a car heading between gigs!

7. 100% Proof – The Tubby Hayes Orchestra (‘100% Proof’, 1966)

This was Tubby’s first extended solo foray on record and it remains perhaps the best example of the multi-layered qualities of his music. Seemingly everything crops up here, from his signature super-fast bop to splashes of ‘free’ improvisation. However, nothing is fragmentary or forced. Of all his recorded tenor solos this is the one I have returned to most often for inspiration; it’s almost a blueprint of his style and it never fails to make me want to play.

8. Alone Together – Tubby Hayes Quartet (‘Addictive Tendencies’ taped 1966, issued 2005 – not available on YouTube)

The 1966-68 Hayes Quartet with Mick Pyne, Ron Mathewson and Tony Levin was, for me, his ultimate band. And there is no better place to see how the impact of the ‘new wave’ of jazz affected Tubby than this track (I once had it on a bootleg cassette). Although Coltrane-inspired, it’s far from a slavish copy. For one thing, there’s Tubby’s incredible lyricism, ever present even within his most extreme double-timed inventions. Again, a taster of his immense presence ‘live’.

9. A Dedication To Joy – Tubby Hayes Quartet (‘Mexican Green’, 1967)

From Tubby’s final landmark (and best) LP, this is one of the most gorgeous examples of his ballad playing on record. Once more, there’s ceaseless melodicism, whether that be in his skilful negotiation of this composition’s unusual structure or in the detailed yet delicate closing cadenza, which proves beyond doubt that he was so much more than a merely ‘technical’ player. Here he reveals himself to be a lyric tenor on a par with Stan Getz. Deeply lovely.

10. Mexican Green – Tubby Hayes Quartet (‘For Members Only’, taped 1967, issued 1990)

The concluding track from the first Hayes album I ever bought. Quite how radical was Tubby’s adoption of certain ‘avant garde’ devices is almost impossible to convey these days but back in the mid-1960s, this amounted to a major departure. As ever, he handled a new artistic challenge magnificently. What makes Tubby so effective when playing ‘free’ is that his basic, iron-clad musicality never deserts him. As a result his solos grow organically but tastefully and, as always with him, there is a strong undercurrent of melodic, rhythmic and harmonic know-how.

LINKS: Simon Spillett’s website

The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes by Simon Spillett is published by Equinox

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