On Screen

Tubby Hayes-A Man in a Hurry
A film by Mark Baxter and Lee Cogswell (Mono Media)

By Ken Waxman

Like a dwarf star shooting across the jazz scene, tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes (1935-1973) is acknowledged as the pre-free music British player who could hold his own with any American innovator; and we have the LPs he made with Clark Terry and Roland Kirk as proof. This documentary is a classic look at the musician, including performance footage plus interviews with 21 observers who outline the circumstances that made him the musician he was, yet contributed to his early death. Hayes got his first saxophone at 12 and was playing professionally at 15. Hayes, who stood five foot five and weighted close to 200 pounds, looked very young. Yet, as tenor saxophonist Ronnie Scott, his partner in The Jazz Couriers says, the first time he played with the Haynes, he was nearly blown nearly off the stand.

Hayes formed his first group in 1954 and thrived during hard bop’s heyday. Although no Michael Caine, Hayes, like the actor, epitomized pre-Beatles Swinging London. Dressed in sports jackets and narrow tie, the saxophonist projected a hip, Mod look that contrasted with the scruffy Trad Jazz followers. Teaching himself flute and vibraphone, Hayes also did studio and movie work – there’s a clip of him camping it up during an on-screen appearance in Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors; and at one point he hosted and played on two prime-time TV shows. Hayes was acclaimed in the US as well, with featured gigs at The Half Note – Miles Davis was in the audience – but musicians’ union exchange rules kept him home. Another drawback was Hayes’ habits. As Scott says “he burned the candle at both ends and started working on the middle”. A prodigious drinker, Hayes was arrested for “hemp” possession in the early ‘50s and soon turned to heroin. The rock music explosion then upset his world. Audience turned away from jazz. While Hayes grew his hair and tried to keep up – there’s a clip of the sad looking saxophonist running the changes on “Hey Jude” – his addiction caught up with him. An arrest for possession coincided with his singer/girlfriend’s fatal overdose. His stretch in rehab revealed serious heart problems. Surgery corrected the defect for a while, but Hayes didn’t change his lifestyle. Finally so weak he couldn’t play, he was back in hospital. He died during surgery. He was 38.

Well-made and fast-moving, A Man in a Hurry confirms Hayes status as a pre-eminent jazz musician.

—For The New York City Jazz Record June 2016