In late 2014 I was approached by a record label planning to release a double-LP set by Tubby Hayes, comprising excerpts from previously issued CDs of club, concert and broadcast recordings made in the mid-1960s. I already knew these albums well – indeed, I’d even written the sleeve notes for two of them back around 2005 – but uniting their ‘best’ moments seemed like a nice idea, doubly so in the newly resurgent vinyl format.
Two of the live tracks featured were recorded at Ronnie Scott’s ‘old’ club in Soho’s Gerrard Street by journalist Les Tomkins, who during the early to mid-Sixties assembled an incredible archive of tapes made by himself (and his trusty Ferrograph recorder) at various London jazz venues.
Sadly, as valuable as this archive is, it seems almost cursed, with any record company who issued something from its capacious contents coming up against legal headaches.
Much of the problem lay in Tomkins’ own modus operandi. When I interviewed him for my biography on Tubby Hayes in the early 2000s, he was quick to tell me that around the autumn of 1963 Ronnie Scott had given him verbal permission to tape whatever he liked at his club’s premises. Rather oddly though, Tomkins added that most of the time he secreted his tape machine away behind a curtain, taking a live ‘feed’ off the house microphone on-stage straight onto magnetic tape, a decision he maintained had been made so’s not to ‘inhibit’ any musician who might see his Ferrograph and consequently ‘dry up’.
To me, this always suggested a decidedly ‘unsanctioned’ method, or, to use the more generic term for illicit recording, as if he were ‘bootlegging’ gigs.
However, as Tomkins revealed some of his tapes were made with the Ferrograph in full view (usually perched at the stage end of Ronnie’s bar, capturing much more extraneous noise) I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Where things grew sticky was that, while there was no way that these lo-fi souvenirs could have been seen as a commercial goldmine in the 1960s when they were taped, by the 1990s, with the advent of sophisticated audio restoration techniques, they were a veritable cash cow in waiting.
The first label to touch Tomkins’ material was Ronnie Scott’s own Jazz House imprint, who issued around a dozen CDs in the mid-to-late 1990s, by artists ranging from Victor Feldman to Don Byas, all incidently with necessary legal settlements being made with either the artists themselves or, if they were no longer living, their estates.
This situation worked well up until the early 2000’s when Tomkins decided to take his archive elsewhere, a decision which brought him into the orbit of a label proven to have a less ethical approach to releasing the material, which I’ll not mention for obvious reasons.
Consequently, that label, although releasing around a dozen excellent CDs taped at Ronnie Scott’s and other London clubs by artists including US stars Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Blossom Dearie, Bill Evans and homegrown heroes like Tubby Hayes and Annie Ross, to name only a few, found itself almost permanently immersed in legal hot water as artists and their estates made quite valid complaints (and in some cases legal cases) over release of material without their permission. One, Sonny Rollins, even made the recordings available as free downloads on his own website to cleverly circumvent the situation.
On a more personal level, I myself witnessed the ire of one of the aggrieved performers one day while visiting the offices of the company responsible for the albums. The owner was on the telephone to a clearly irate veteran British jazz vocalist then based in America, her anger perfectly tangible without any recourse to speakerphone. Suddenly, the line went dead. The label boss called back.
‘I think we just got cut off, Miss ****’
‘No, I ****ing hung up, you jackass!’
There were more shenanigans to come. When Tomkins again upped and left and took his tranche of tapes to a new home – Candid Records – around 2008 the previous ‘owners’ continued to use material to which they now had questionable rights. This mess continued right up until Tomkins finally signed over still more of his archive to another company a few years before his death in 2020, a label that successfully issued a few titles by the likes of Yusef Lateef, Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott himself, but which again couldn’t secure the approval of surviving artists like Sonny Rollins.
Thankfully, upon his passing his entire tape collection, which stretched forward to the 2000s to include interviews he’d conducted for later magazines such as The Jazz Rag, was bequeathed to the National Jazz Archive, located in Loughton, Essex.
Enthusiasts for the contents of the many albums that have come from this source, like myself, are always torn between the value of the music and how it has been ‘legitimized’. I for one wouldn’t be without some of the gems that Tomkins’ recorded on his portable reel-to-reel, and I’ve waxed lyrical on more than one occasion about his three volumes of Tubby Hayes (‘Live in London’ volumes 1 and 2 and the 2-CD ‘Inventivity’, the latter I annotated in 2006), which to my mind contain some of the most relaxed and creative Hayes on record. Yet there comes a point when – especially as a working musician, which I am – you have to weigh up whatever historic importance a listener may place on such recordings against what are (or might have been) the artists original wishes.
Would I, for example, like someone to commercially release an album of a gig I’d done years ago, in less than pristine audio quality and without any advance notice, let alone fiscal settlement? Undoubtedly no. And it’s no good saying ‘ah but this is Jazz Legend X we’re dealing with here’.
Jazz Legend X may well be an inspired fountain from which every droplet should be savoured but he/she is still a human being whose wish to adhere to professional standards of presentation should be respected.
So what might you ask has this to do with opening reveal about my commission to write some sleeve notes for an album? Well, to put it succinctly, I did write the notes for said set and for no other reason than (I assume) questions of ownership over some of the material it was to include, the resulting album never appeared. In fact, it didn’t even get off the drawing board, leaving my notes – reproduced below – as a sort of free-floating audio guide to a record you’ll never be able to buy.
Only you can hear it if you happen to own the individual albums from which this set of tracks were intended to be lifted, in which case you can create your own playlist, sit back and, if you’re so inclined, read these accompanying comments.
If not, then it matters not one jot. It’s a bit writing about a nice bit of history which you may enjoy.
NOTES TO ‘TUBBY HAYES - LIVE 1964-66’ 2 LP SET (*never issued)
Since his death, aged just 38 in 1973, Tubby Hayes’ life and work has become the stuff of legend: a South London musical Boy Wonder who dared to play the American Jazz Gods at their own game and who achieved the hitherto impossible for an English jazzman – international admiration and respect – it’s small wonder his story continues to fascinate and inspire.
Almost incredibly, 2015 marks the 80th anniversary of Edward Brian Hayes birth. I use the word incredibly because somehow the notion that, had he lived, Hayes would now be firmly beyond his three score years and ten is somewhat hard to take. ‘In a way, Tubby never grew up’, Ronnie Scott wrote of his friend and colleague soon after his death, and it is this image of Hayes - the chubby, perpetually cheerful-looking young man who smiles out of virtually every surviving photograph – that forms our deeply entrenched folk memory of him. And yet, even though he remains forever locked into his youth, Hayes somehow remains a tangible, larger than life figure – as if he might suddenly appear through the doors of a Sunday lunchtime pub gig, unpack his tenor and heave up to the bar for a pint.
Plenty of older jazz fans still recall with awe and affection his effect upon local audiences, but while the opportunity to hear Hayes live may well be long since passed, with the rediscovery of club and concert sessions such as those heard on this collection, something of his in-person power can be felt by those who missed all the action first time around.
Veteran listeners will tell you that, good as Hayes studio-records are, nothing comes close to the impact he could have before a home crowd. One, the writer Brian Case, summed this up perfectly when remembering Hayes in ‘Melody Maker’: ‘For those of us of Tubbs’ generation, he was king of hip castle. Denied 52nd Street and Central Avenue, what we had was The Flamingo, The Florida, Ronnie Scott’s Old Place, The Marquee and Club 51, and that was the scene where Tubbs held court’.
This record features nine tracks of Hayes doing just that, taking care of business in a variety of familiar haunts during his mid-60s peak, all of which are taken from previous Harkit CD releases.
A brace of performances, lifted from the archive of journalist Les Tomkins, find him on his home turf, indeed the spiritual home for this particular brand of modernism, Ronnie Scott’s Club (the old basement location at 39 Gerrard Street).
He’s also captured in action out ‘on the road’ at provincial venues including The Hopbine, the North Wembley hostelry whose jazz nights were organised by fellow saxophonist Tommy Whittle, and Nottingham’s The Dancing Slipper, a suburban ballroom situated over a row of shops to which promoter Bill ‘Foo’ Kinnell lured the good and the great of the British and American jazz scene.
Another track commemorates Hayes’ strong student following, taken from a gig at Bristol University, wherein he makes an appearance as part of a ‘Jazz Tete-a-Tete’ concert package assembled by the enterprising impresario Peter Burman. Finally, alongside these energised live outpourings, he is featured in an excerpt from a studio-recorded programme, made for broadcast overseas, during which the emphasis is firmly on the more reflective side of his many talents.
The description ‘multi-talented’ might well have been coined for Tubby Hayes. Throughout these performances he displays almost all of his myriad musical virtues (the only thing missing being an example of his cork-popping big band work).
First and foremost there is Hayes the tenor saxophone virtuoso, hurtling headlong through a series of dazzling improvisations on up-tempo themes including ‘Two Bass Hit’ (taped with the hand-in-glove quintet he led from 1962 to ’64, which some still say was his best ever unit) and ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’, both of which reveal in spades the intense demands he made upon his musical cohorts.
Then there’s Hayes the ‘changes’ player par excellence, revealed in his artful spin through the devilishly unpredictable harmonies of Jerome Kern’s composition, ‘Nobody Else But Me’.
His self-taught ‘doubles’ (a phrase that hardly applies to instruments on which he was equally accomplished) come to the fore in ‘Bluesology’ (vibes) and ‘In The Night’ (flute), the latter also revealing a knack for composing his own, indelibly catchy, original material.
The dual talents of Hayes the bandleader and talent scout is spotlighted too: several of his ‘discoveries’ are dotted throughout these recordings – Terry Shannon, Gordon Beck, Mike Pyne and Tony Levin, most notably – while the transformational effect his presence could have on those who had already secured reputations for high-end musical excellence can be felt in his friendly-fire ‘battle’ with Tommy Whittle, an encounter that reaches Al and Zoot-styled levels of musical alchemy. ‘Two Bass Hit’ is another example of this catalytic ability in action, during which Hayes’ unrelenting energy prompts drummer Allan Ganley to play with truly inspired abandon.
Perhaps best of all, these candid musical snapshots reveal a side to Hayes which his reputation as a fast-fingered gunslinger has tended to eclipse: that of his peerless skills as a ballad player. His tenor-led readings of ‘The More I See You’ and his own, gently unfurling composition ‘When My Baby Gets Angry – Everybody Split’ (dedicated to his then-girlfriend, vocalist Joy Marshall) both display a sense of musical drama, pacing and emotional climax that is nothing less than Getz-like, while his flute playing on ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’ illustrates the winning effect of his marriage of lyricism and muscle. Listen in particular to his Roland Kirk-inspired vocalisations, a technique guaranteed to move any audience.
However, this album plays it true trump card with the one aspect of Hayes’ music that can’t really be explained away in technical terms, or rationalised in jazz-critic-speak: his charisma. Over the years several writers (this one included) have tried to lay a critical finger on exactly what made Hayes so popular with all kinds of listeners, but few have come as close as the late Peter Clayton.
Writing in ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ in 1964, he observed that ‘[Tubby] goes about his music with such gusto, such confidence, that even those people who are unmoved by it or don’t understand it can see that he knows exactly what he’s doing and where he is going.’ Indeed, when you strip away all the talk of musical daring-do and technical accomplishment, what Hayes possessed, in almost inexhaustible quantities, was utter conviction, whatever the setting.
The majority of these tracks actually comprise nothing more than informal documents of Hayes at work, doing what he did night-after-night for his entire adult life. He may not have even known some of them were being taped – indeed, the jury seems to remain firmly out on this point – but the fact that they show such a highly concentrated level of musical brilliance serves as a testament to Hayes exacting standards, regardless of the venue and performing circumstances.
Able to spin pure jazz-silk in both a pub backroom and a recording studio, not only was Hayes the ultimate consummate professional, he was also a consistently inspired artist – something that is far, far rarer in jazz than many observers would allow. Eighty years since his birth – and over forty since his untimely death – it seems very safe to say that jazz won’t see his like again. Recordings such as these, however, give more than a glimpse into the charisma and talents of a man whose music will surely sound just as good in another eighty years.
Simon Spillett, October 2014
Author of ‘The Long Shadow of The Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes’ (Equinox Publications, 2015)
Photo: stroboscopic sax: Tubby Hayes in action at Ronnie Scott's, circa. 1964