Friday, November 27, 2009

Our Hearts Belong to Roy

© Andrea Canter

Every two or three years, at least in this decade, living jazz legend Roy Haynes spends a weekend in St. Paul at the Artists’ Quarter with his pal Kenny Horst. It’s one of the few times you will not see Kenny playing drums with a visiting artist, but you can count on Kenny to do something else unusual—introducing the band. It’s a role usually reserved for the suave Davis Wilson, the one who always welcomes “my lords and ladies” and notes that the AQ is “pleased and flipped” to bring the music to the audience. But not when Roy Haynes is on the schedule. Drummer Kenny Horst regards drummer Roy Haynes as a mentor. In fact that set of green metallic drums that is usually on the AQ stage was a gift from Roy. When Roy comes to town, Kenny handles the host chores with a big grin on his face. He’s in Haynes Heaven. And so are we.

This past weekend, Roy returned for the first time since recording a live album (Where As) for Dreyfus, a “snap crackle” effort that brought an instrumental solo Grammy nomination to Haynes for his impromptu “Hippidy Hop.” This time, the band was his original Fountain of Youth, first seen here in 2004 with Martin Bejerano on piano, John Sullivan on bass, and Marcus Strickland on sax. Only Sullivan made the recording date in 2006, with Bejerano getting a rain check due to a schedule conflict, and Jaleel Shaw having assumed the horn chair with Strickland finding less and less time available as his own band gained recognition. Another whopping young talent, Robert Rodriguez, admirably held his own on keys. For a while, Sullivan dropped out of the band to pursue real estate and other projects. When we last saw Roy Haynes in the Twin Cities—at Ted Mann and at the Dakota, he had another fine young bassist, David Wong, along with Bejerano and Shaw. Smartly, Roy always surrounds himself with the best of the young rising stars. They benefit from his experience; he benefits from their energy. The Academy of Roy Haynes is a collaboration.

This time, it was Shaw who had the scheduling conflict, and fortunately Strickland was available. Sullivan had returned to active duty, so now it was a reunion of the original Fountain of Youth. And they made the most of it, four sets over two nights with a mix of old favorites and newer additions to their repertoire. And of course the commentary, banter, spontaneity and good humor of 84-year-old Roy Haynes, himself a veritable Fountain of Youth. They started out the weekend with a fiery reading of “Autumn Leaves,” initially disguised by Sullivan’s bass vamp, leading into Strickland’s elegantly swinging melody, subsequent solo and prolonged cadenza. Always one of my favorites from this band, Pat Metheny’s “James” was volcanic, bringing Roy out from behind the kit to brag about his protégés and off a solo spotlight on Bejerano, whose “Easy to Remember” will indeed be hard to forget, particularly how he turned postbop to stride and back as if that had been the composer’s intent all along. Marcus Strickland closed the set with an impromptu fling at a Maceo Parker riff. An equally spontaneous drum solo highlighted the closing set Saturday night, along with a smoldering treatment of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” featuring Strickland on soprano, Bejerano’s full deconstruction, Sullivan’s slinky vamp, and busy accents from the leader, who ultimately pulled Strickland into a dual to take it out.

A few more jokes, a sing-along, and another Roy Haynes weekend wrapped up. The two sets I attended went on for about 90 minutes, including the finale, ending at nearly 1 am. If Roy was tired, he didn’t let on. Maybe I’ll be that perky when I’m 84, but I have a long way to go.
Photos: (top and bottom), Roy Haynes at the Artists Quarter; (middle) Marcus Strickland rejoined the FOY for the weekend, playing tenor and soprano. (Photos by Andrea Canter on 11/20/09)