London-born Edward Brian “Tubby” Hayes could feasibly be viewed as the UK’s equivalent to US bebop icon Charlie Parker: like the alto saxophonist they called “Bird”, Hayes was a supremely gifted horn player whose tragic, early death embodied the old cliché that jazz musicians lived fast and died young. Also like Parker, Hayes died while still in his 30s, the victim of long-term heroin addiction and unhealthy lifestyle choices that cut him down before he had peaked as a musician.
Fortunately for jazz fans, Hayes was prolific in the recording studio and left a rich legacy of music behind. Though he died on an operating table during surgery for a heart condition, at age 38, on 8 June 1973, the last decade or so has seen Hayes’ legacy greatly bolstered by the release of archival live recordings. The undoubted high point of his posthumous releases, however, is Grits, Beans And Greens, an album that has been unearthed after gathering dust for over 50 years and was released on 26 July 2019.
Listen to Grits, Beans And Greens right now.
Magic moments in the spotlight
Issued by Universal, the custodians of Hayes’ 60s recordings for the Fontana imprint, the five tracks that comprise Grits, Beans And Greens were recorded between the hours of 10.30am and 1.30pm on Tuesday, 24 June 1969, at Philips studio in Stanhope Place, London, with Terry Brown producing. Hayes, a talented multi-instrumentalist who could play flute and vibraphone as well as saxophone, focused on his first love, the tenor sax, for that particular session and surrounded himself with a simpatico band comprised of pianist, Mike Pyne, bassist Ron Mathewson and drummer Spike Wells.
The first track on the album is an original composition, ‘For Members Only’. We hear the saxophonist count it off and then an explosion of swirling drums from Spike Wells, who initiates a pulsating swing groove with Hayes enunciating a snaking, Coltrane-esque main theme over the top. Before it builds a head of steam, however, the piece rapidly shifts down the gears and the music becomes more discursive and abstract for a few moments. After that, the tune really takes off, with Mathewson’s fast-walking bassline and Wells’ kinetic drums keeping the song hurtling along at breakneck speed. Hayes takes the first solo, then Pyne, and then there’s a “trading fours” section in which Hayes and the whole band alternate in call-and-response passages with drummer Spike Wells.
Grits, Beans And Greens’ title track follows. It’s another high-octane offering, though less direct than the opening track. The song is characterised by a series of molten saxophone motifs that pour from Hayes’ horn over a swirling, sometimes jaunty, rhythmic undertow. Both Mathewson and Wells have magic moments in the spotlight, too.
‘Rumpus’, which was a feature of Hayes’ late 60s live sets, certainly lives up to its title, showing the saxophonist moving stylistically to a more advanced and exploratory type of hard bop. The melodic fluency of the main theme, combined with the incisive, jabbing, highly rhythmic way Hayes drives the track forward, also reflects the influence of Coltrane.
An important pathfinder at a creative high point
The second half of Grits, Greens And Beans begins with Hayes in a more sedate, slow ballad mode. He offers a wonderful interpretation of US pianist/composer Duke Pearson’s ‘You Know I Care’, in which his playing is deeply melodic and lyrical. Mathewson and Wells – with the latter using brushes for a softer sound – create a mellow but fluid backdrop.
By contrast, the shimmering ‘Where Am I Going’ evinces a breezy, Latin flavour. Pyne’s glistening piano chords, over a gentle syncopated rhythm, set the tone before Hayes embarks on a lengthy solo that’s supple, sensuous and richly melodic. Indeed, Hayes never runs out of ideas, or, indeed, steam, during his long improvisation, which finds him delivering a flowing torrent of seemingly endless melody in a gushing fount of inspiration.
It remains a mystery why Grits, Beans And Greens got lost. What is abundantly clear, however, is that the album captures the saxophonist during a creative high point of his career. Though his personal life was a mess, Hayes hadn’t lost his muse and could still make music of the highest quality. For fans of British jazz, the album’s discovery is as significant as last year’s unearthing of John Coltrane’s Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album.
Grits, Beans And Greens: The Lost Fontana Studio Session 1969 has been meticulously remastered from the original analogue session tapes at Gearbox Records’ specialist studio, in London, where a Haeco Scully lathe (as used by the Rudy Van Gelder for cutting Blue Note albums in the 50s and 60s) was used to cut the LP lacquers.
A deluxe 2CD version of the album also includes 18 tracks comprised of various alternate takes (some taken from an earlier session, recorded in May 1969). The music is accompanied by informative liner notes from Hayes’ biographer, Simon Spillett.
The release of Grits, Beans And Greens comes at a time when the UK jazz scene is experiencing a bona fide renaissance, with the emergence of exciting talents such as Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Binker & Moses and many more. Tubby Hayes’ lost album offers a timely reminder to a new generation of jazz enthusiasts of an important musical pathfinder who was carrying the torch for British jazz half a century years ago.
Grits, Beans And Greens can be bought here.