Veteran drummer Louis Hayes says, besides jazz, he likes many types of music—Brazilian, Indian, flamenco and the blues. But it’s his affinity for church music that keeps the beat solid in his life. Recently I spoke with Louis about his musical philosophy.
Were you born with jazz in your soul or did you acquire it?
Both ways. I can’t say what happened when I was born because I don’t know. My family, they were in music and art forms before I was born. My father played drums and piano; my mother sang and played piano; my uncle played piano—a lot of people who were into art. So it was available for me when I came along. It was there in the home and I accepted it.
Other than the drums, what instrument do you appreciate the most?
That’s a difficult one. It depends on who’s playing the instrument! I appreciate artists that I feel that listening to gives me a feeling like no one else can—like Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie or Art Blakey, Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Philly Joe Jones, Poppa Joe Jones, Art Tatum. It depends on who’s playing whatever instrument it is. The way I feel about music and artists, if I’m up on stage and playing music with someone, some people have a knack for giving a feeling, and I’d say to myself, “That’s more”—and on a higher level than others: Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley and Oscar Peterson.
You come upon four drummers: Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Elvin Jones, Kenny Clark, but you can only talk to one—which one?
Kenny Clark. When I was a young person in Detroit there was a bassist—Ernie Farrell. I was listening to other NY drummers, but he asked me to listen to Kenny Clark and I did. I really got a great feeling for his sense of time and playing—very hip with a lot of feeling. What he added to the group was his direction. I really enjoyed his direction. I had an opportunity to meet him when I first went to Paris with Horace Silver, 1958,‘59. His concept, listening to him starting, developing a sense of time, direction that I felt like I wanted to go in. He was playing time with a cymbal. A little bit before him, time had to do with the bass drum. His cymbal beat is what I got from Kenny Clark.
Are you a different drummer in 2014 than you were when you first expressed music?
Yes. As you develop—if you’re able to survive and be a person that can do this art form over a period of time—things change because your body changes. Your life changes. Your friends change. Everything changes. So you definitely have to change.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Older [laugh]. As long as my body feels good and I look good—that’s very important to me—I will always like to play and be on stage and put my feeling out there to the music I love to play. It makes me feel good, and if it makes me feel good, I can make the people feel good. So I would always like to play. It’s just that as you get older … I’d like to play for fun—not because I have to, but because I like to play.