Caught by the River

Tubby Hayes – A Man in a Hurry

Ken Worpole | 23rd January 2016

Tubby Hayes – A Man in a Hurry
A Mono Media Film, DVD, 55 mins, produced by Mark Baxter & Sam Pattinson, Directed by Lee Cogswell

Review by Ken Worpole.

Tubby Hayes was one of the great British modern jazz instrumentalists of the post-war era, whose rise to international fame was, alas, as rapid as his fall. On the times I saw him in the 1960s, he always took the room by storm, swapping between tenor sax, flute and – sometimes – vibraphone, leading a band of some of the legendary players of the time: Jimmy Deucher, Victor Feldman, Phil Seaman, Ronnie Scott, Pete King. Hayes embodied good tailoring, South London wit, the bonhomie of Soho club life, with extraordinary technical expertise and a wish to make sure everybody had a good time. However, on the last occasion I saw him, at the end of the 1960s at a jazz club in Brighton, it was clear he was in pieces: after long delays in getting on stage, the band played just two numbers before Hayes, walked off, unable to find a way into or out of the music.

tubby hayes pic no4_ (1)

It would be wrong to regard Hayes’ life as a tragic failure, however, as A Man in a Hurry, a marvelous new film about his life and music demonstrates. He was more than good – he was the best. When the young saxophonist got his first club gig in New York, Miles Davis, Stan Getz and other American luminaries came to hear him; both Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington picked him to play alongside them. In the film musicians and critics line up in front of the camera to speak admiringly and affectionately of Hayes’ pioneering energy at the front wave of British modern jazz, recalling DA haircuts (‘as necessary as a union card’], Cecil Gee suits, and a straight-ahead music which put Soho and a select group of London pubs at the heart of the British musical universe for a while, before the rhythm and blues counter-revolution set in. ‘Doing the business,’ was Hayes’ own description of his playing, according to poet Mike Horovitz.

Produced by Mark Baxter (who describes his CV as ‘Red Wine, Millwall & Tubby Hayes’) and Sam Pattinson, directed by Lee Cogswell, there is unlikely to be a fuller, more appreciative attempt to celebrate the life of Hayes (1935 – 1973) than this heartfelt film, narrated by actor Martin Freeman, now selected as official entry for the 2016 Copenhagen Jazz Film Festival. I own a few Hayes LPs, but hadn’t realized that even in his short playing life he made more than thirty records, all now collectors’ items. The music created was ‘neither West Coast, nor East Coast – it was London,’ according to Robert Elms, and anchored British modern jazz in an aesthetic of its own. Stylish, dry-witted, life-affirming, and borrowing on Italian and Jewish influences picked up in the cafes and bars of Soho, it also made occasional forays out into various Railway Arms-type pubs along the river, bringing the good news where none had been before. Even his most famous composition was called ‘A pint of bitter’. Sadly drink and drugs came too easily with the territory, and Hayes struggled for some years before irreversible health problems precipitated his untimely death.

The music Hayes played became the soundtrack to the 1960s British new wave – whether on film, in the theatre, or in the novels people read, and even in politics – which for my generation was probably as good as it gets. A terrific film, and now for many of us, indispensible.

Buy a copy here.

Ken Worpole