Roy Haynes’s rolodex must read like the Penguin Guide to Jazz. The Roxbury, Massachusetts-born drummer, who turned 82 earlier this year, has played with just about every acclaimed giant and fringe underdog of 20th-century jazz, from small combos to big bands, as a session player, touring ensemble member, and bandleader. He’s seen it all: the mutations of style and speed, the music of the masses and stuff of intellectual solitude, swing and bebop and hard bop and post-bop and free, and every other digable niche from within and without. In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Haynes played extensively with Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis, gigged with Bud Powell and Stan Getz, and later spent 1953-1958 touring with Sarah Vaughan. He was Elvin Jones’s substitute in John Coltrane’s classic quartet in the early ‘60s, and beginning in 1970, has led his own rotating-cast group, the Hip Ensemble. Throughout his six decades in music, Haynes has collaborated with Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Eric Dolphy, Etta James, Sonny Rollins, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, and countless others. Toss a dart at a wall of modern jazz happenings, and chances are it’ll land on a spot where Roy Haynes was involved to some degree.
As would be expected, the new career-overview compilation A Life in Time: The Story of Roy Haynes is a veritable who’s who of jazz, spanning the years from 1949 (Young’s “Ding Dong”) to 2006 (“Segment”, a live track recorded with Haynes’s Fountain of Youth Band). The set’s three CDs break up Haynes’s career into thematic and chronological nuggets. Disc One catalogs Haynes’s supportive roles from 1949-1962, featuring mostly small-combo work. This includes the nimble romp of Powell’s “Bouncin’ with Bud” (1949), Parker’s Latin-flavored “My Little Suede Shoes” (1951), Nat Adderley’s nipping “Two Brothers” (1955), Monk’s quizzical “Rhythm-A-Ning” (1958), and a couple of songs showcasing a scat-happy Vaughan in small and big band settings (“Shulie-A-Bop” and “How High the Moon”, respectively). In a wonderful 1958 trio piece with pianist Phineas Newborn and bassist Paul Chambers, Haynes sets off the sort of tasteful drum solo that earned him the nickname Snap Crackle, ricocheting from hi-hat ripple to floor-tom roll to an ambush on the cymbals.
Haynes’s percussive tact rings even louder on Disc Two, which focuses more on his out-leaning/contemporary material from 1963-1998 and allows for wider improvisatory jurisdiction. The stuttering “Snap Crackle”, taken from 1962’s Out in the Afternoon and featuring Kirk and pianist Tommy Flanagan, is one of Haynes’s most distinctive and minimalist originals, its rooster-strut melody reflecting the syncopations of a drummer’s mind, it still sounds like nothing else made at the time. Elsewhere, Haynes makes a break on Corea’s lightning-quick “Matrix” (1968), punctuates the guitar-and-vibe velvetiness of Metheny’s “Question and Answer” (1997) with impulsive ribs to the snare, and adds expressive color to Alice Coltrane’s organ catharsis “Transfiguration” (1978). Haynes seizes creative freedom on a run through “My Favorite Things” with John Coltrane at Newport in 1963, his kit locking shoulders with Trane’s blustery soprano.
Disc Three compiles the many phases of Haynes’s Hip Ensembles from 1970-2006. The Hip Ensembles flirt with the freedoms of the avant-garde, but often maintain a much more structured sense of operations. This balance is struck nicely in ‘70s tunes like “Equipoise” and “Vistalite”, where melodic accessibility meets dexterous musicianship. The searching spirit of Davis’s late-period electric groups fuels 1992’s “Brown Skin Girl”, while a 2002 take on “Greensleeves” bounces its melody atop Haynes’s fluttering kit. Many of the selections on A Life in Time strategically highlight Haynes’s playing, but the penultimate track, “Hippidy Hop”, a seven-minute drum solo performed live in 2006, is the ultimate kind of emphasis. The set’s bonus DVD underscores that emphasis with a pair of live performances from 1973 and 2005, both featuring highly creative solos by Haynes. Drum solos are what they are—indulgent, unnecessary, impressive—but Haynes is able to maintain rhythmic fascination amongst more brainy attempts to impress. Playing, he explains on the DVD’s interview segment, is “nothin’ you can talk about—you’ve got to feel that.” As A Life in Time attests, Haynes feels it incessantly.