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Louis Hayes: Living His Dream

By Deardra Shuler
May, 2001

Louis Hayes stretches out on his comfortable brown couch. His braids, so small, that his dark hair actually looks slicked back. Portraits of his family surround him while jazz music plays in the background creating a milieu. Attractive paintings hang on the walls reflecting his interest in Black art. A glance around the cozy apartment portends a lived-in atmosphere.
The patter of running feet announce his grand daughter, Alani, who toddles across the room at a speed demon pace, while his wife Nisha, runs behind. She scoops up the child prompting a gale of giggles. The drummer grins, demonstrating that he is clearly comfortable in the role of family man.

Louis Hayes does not stand above 5'11" in height but does stand tall in stature. He seems a contented man. He is a man that has measured his life in terms of music and has earned his legendary status as jazz drummer extraordinarie.
Born in Detroit Michigan, May 31, 1937, Hayes was raised amongst a family of music enthusiast. His father played drums and piano, his brother played piano and his mother played piano and sang. His talent came naturally. "Although my parents were gifted, I don't believe they actually played professionally because my father worked for Ford Motor Company and my mother operated her own restaurant."

Louis began playing piano with his brother at age 7, but it didn't hold his interest. One day his father handed him a pair of drumsticks to keep him busy and Louis discovered his philous. He had found his true love. "My father gave me a set of drums when I turned 10. Practicing became difficult, because after my parents separated, we moved with our mother to a place where we lived upstairs over other tenants. I used to play so often that when the neighbors heard me come home they began banging on the pipes before I could even get upstairs to practice. They knew what was getting ready to happen," chuckled the musician. "Something about the drums turned me on. I could open up the drum case and just the smell of them would knock me out. I simply loved them."

When Hayes became a teen his mother bought a house. He was free at last to play his drums. He stored them in the basement along with a piano and vibraphones. "I was having a ball down in the basement playing my drums until I was fortunate enough to secure a gig with the husband of a friend of my mother who owned a nightclub where teenagers hung out."
Hayes played several teen clubs and then performed at a place called Klein's Show Bar where he met Yusef Lateef. "Lateef gave me a 6 week trial and then hired me. I worked for him for over a year before he found out I was underage and let me go. 21, was the legal age to work in nightclubs and I was 18. The time spent with Lateef, however, was a good period for me because I was able to play with very professional people. It enabled me to hone my skills," recalled the drummer.

One night Hayes visited an after hour spot called West End where he ran into musicians Doug Watkins and Kenny Burrell. They jammed together that night and upon his return to New York, Watkins, who was with the Jazz Messengers, mentioned Hayes to Horace Silver. Silver invited Hayes to New York to play with his band. Hayes moved to New York in August of 1956, at age19, where he worked with Silver from 1956 to 1959.
Hayes had the opportunity to make records and recorded with people such as John Coltrane, Donald Byrd, Red Garland and Paul Chambers.

"The old Birdland used to be on 52nd Street where they used to have session nights. I was playing there in 1959, appearing with saxophonist, Hank Mobley, trumpeter, Booker Little, Bobby Timmons on piano and Sam Jones on Bass. Sam Jones told me that Cannonball Adderley was looking for a drummer and asked was I interested. I began playing with Cannonball. We traveled all over. We played some Black colleges in the South. I can remember driving down there with Cannonball's brother, Nat, looking for something to eat. It seemed like we were driving forever. There were just too many places we couldn't enter because of segregation. I wasn't familiar with the South. I didn't know much about avoiding segregated places and water fountains. But, Nat and Cannonball were born in Florida so they knew how to navigate around without incurring many problems. I enjoyed working with Adderley's band. It was fun. We were like family."
Hayes played with Cannonball from 1959 through 1965. Throughout 1965 until 1967 he performed with Oscar Peterson's band. "After that, I hooked up with Freddie Hubbard and we had a band together called the Communicators. We traveled around Europe for a while. Then, I returned to play again with Peterson for a year. I then went on to form my own band, The Louis Hayes Jr., Cooke Quintet which featured Woody Shaw, Ronnie Matthews on piano and Stafford James on bass. We traveled mostly in Europe. We went to France, Germany, Switzerland and Holland. Europe was exciting to me. The Europeans looked at musicians as special people. Jazz was an appreciated art form there. There were few Blacks living in Europe at the time so the people would chase after us trying to get autographs and the like."

Dexter Gordon who had been living in Europe returned to the States for a while and performed with Hayes' band. Hayes recorded an album called, "Homecoming" with Gordon for Columbia Records. "I formed several bands; traveled nationally and internationally and then in 1985 I became acquainted with McCoy Tyner. McCoy was a real gentleman and I had the pleasure of working with him for four years."
Hayes again formed his own group in 1990 and has worked on his own ever since. He recorded several recordings, most recently, "Quintessential Lou" on the Swiss label, TCB. Another CD called "Candy Man" is due out in January 2001.
"Since I am the only surviving member from the original Adderly group, I was asked to put together a Cannonball Adderly legacy band. We will be playing some of Cannonball's compositions: "The Work Song," "Jive Samba," "This Year," and "Sack of Woe," claimed Hayes. "More recently, I have been involved with a group called, 'The Legends of the Bandstand.' The group consists of Cedar Walton on piano; Percy Heath, bass; Curtis Philip, trombone; and David Newman, tenor saxophone; with yours truly on drums."

Hayes met his wife Nisha in 1968 and begat their daughter, Maisha, who herself, has a daughter. "I also have a daughter, Alisha, from a prior marriage who was born in 1964. She has two sons and a daughter," said Louis.
"I love my family and I also have a love for the arts, theatre, museums and an interest in Black history."
During his illustrious career, Hayes has come in contact with artists such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Gloria Lynne, Nat King Cole, Nancy Wilson, Betty Carter, Carmen McRae, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane, Steve Allan, Rhavi Shankar, Debbie Reynolds and numerous others. "I have been in the company of so many people in my life, it's impossible to name them all.
"Jazz is an art form that when you get into it you are not even thinking about money. Many of the great artists in jazz do well but never really become wealthy. There is no comparison between the money jazz artist make and that of other musical forms. For example, I have a first cousin in the music business that has done quite well. He is very talented but he did not choose the same art form that I did. He is the son of my mother's younger brother. My family originated from Cotton Valley, Louisiana and moved to Minneapolis back in the early 20's. My cousin's name is Prince. Although he presently goes by the name 'The Artist Known As (Ankh Symbol).' Prince is a very good musician and has been well received in the Pop Music genre. Pop, is the music he felt and that is the direction he went. I listened to people like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Max Roach. They inspired me so that is the direction I chose.

"I especially appreciated my experience with Papa Joe Jones who was the original drummer with Count Basie. He was a big influence on me as a friend and mentor. He was a very intelligent person who shared a lot of his experiences with me. I was always grateful to him for that. I have been fortunate in the fact that I have been able to record a great deal and especially with people whom I have deeply admired in the world of music." Louis has grown up within the music business and has paid his dues. Having started off with bebop Hayes has become one of the legendary figures in jazz.
"Looking at my life thus far, I would say, that it is a great magnificent feeling to work toward a dream and have that dream come true; to be accepted by your peers and grow up within an art form that is special to you. It's wonderful to have achieved a degree of success wherein people now look up to me to lead the way. Sometimes, it makes me feel uncomfortable being called a Master. I guess, however, it only means that I am at the top of my form and have been able to make a contribution doing something I love."

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