Tubby Hayes was one of England’s top and beloved jazz musicians of the 1950s and ’60s. Tubby Hayes was a fine hard bop stylist on tenor and occasionally vibes and flute. A professional at 15, Hayes played with Kenny Baker and in the big bands of Ambrose, Vic Lewis, and Jack Parnell during 1951-1955.
He led his own group after that, and started doubling on vibes in 1956. Hayes co-led the Jazz Couriers with Ronnie Scott (1957-1959), and appeared in the U.S. a few times during 1961-1965. He headed his own big band in London, sat in with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra in 1964, and was featured at many European festivals.
In the United States, Hayes was known as a lightning-fast hard bopper, but his British discography reveals several dramatic changes in his style. There is a vast difference from the straight-ahead recordings of the Jazz Couriers to the free, uninhibited playing on the 1967 album Mexican Green. Hayes could always revert to his older styles as needed, especially when fronting a big band, but on the title cut of 100% Proof”, he shows that several of his styles could co-exist on the same track.
Hayes had a heroin habit which sidelined him during long periods in the late sixties. His nickname came from his large frame, but after a pair of open-heart surgeries, the nickname hardly fit. He died on the operating table during another heart surgery.
Tubby Hayes tells a story: “I always used to listen to swing music in the early ‘Forties and, in fact, I was just a kid at the time. I did not really intend becoming a tenor player, though I always liked tenor. I think maybe Dizzy influenced me more than Parker because he was sort of more accessible, he caught your attention more. As far as my influences over the years are concerned, Getz was it at one stage in the proceedings, and later Rollins, Coltrane, Hank Mobley and, to a lesser degree, even Zoot”.
One much repeated story about Hayes’ early career was told by Ronnie Scott. Scott was playing at a club near Kingston, and was asked whether he minded if a local player sat in: “This little boy came up, not much bigger than his tenor sax. Rather patronizingly I suggested a number and off he went. He scared me to death.”