The last time Louis Hayes did an extended gig in Lansing, it was 1953. Hayes was only 15 and President Harry Truman had just unveiled the H-bomb. Coincidence?
Historic stints with pianists Horace Silver and Oscar Peterson and saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley were still ahead of him, as were several recordings with saxophonist John Coltrane, but Hayes was already a pro.
“All I can remember is that I was appearing in this club with a bass player leading a quartet,” Hayes said in a phone interview. “There was a saxophonist from Pittsburgh. We stayed in a rooming house.”
Hayes, the latest in a series of jazz legends to come to MSU, will work and concertize with students next week as the annual Jazz Spectacular takes over campus. Highlights include a Thursday gala concert, with Hayes joining MSU’s jazz octets, and a Saturday finale concert with Hayes and the powerhouse MSU Jazz Orchestras. The big bands will throw a swing dance (without Hayes) at Demonstration Hall Friday night.
Hayes grew up in Detroit, playing teenage clubs for money and sneaking into the adult spots.
“I wasn’t driving, but I made some appearances in clubs where I wasn’t supposed to be in the first place,” he said. “I only had trouble one time.”
A sweet gig with Detroit reedman Yusef Lateef ended abruptly when the club owner found out how old Hayes was.
Before heading to New York to join Silver in 1956, Hayes had his only brush with his idol, bebop icon Charlie Parker, at Detroit’s now-defunct Madison Ballroom.
“I went into the rest room and he came in,” Hayes recalled. “He said to me something about his stomach.”
Hayes hit his stride in the 1950s, favoring a light, agile style of drumming perfectly suited for the post-swing era. Hard bop, as the style later became known, ventilated the hyperactive, hermetic hive of bebop, letting in the sunshine of soul, gospel and Latin influences, as well as a myriad of new ideas from composer-players like Silver and Adderley.
After a life-changing stint with Silver (check out Hayes on the landmark “6 Pieces of Silver”), Hayes powered one of jazz’s alltime great combos, led by Cannonball Adderley and his cornet-playing brother, Nat.
Hayes’ pulsing, multi-directional spray of drums has inspired many combos to romp like kids in a fountain, and Adderley’s sextet played with an extraordinary joy.
“We were very close as musicians, as people — even our families, even the business people,” he said. “That’s the only time that happened in my life.”
After that, Hayes joined super-virtuoso pianist Oscar Peterson’s trio.
“It was definitely an adjustment,” he said. “His facilities are on such a high level. I had to be very sensitive of where he was going at all times.”
Along the way, Hayes made several recordings with John Coltrane, including “Lush Life,” “The Last Trane,” “The Believer” and an obscure but delicious disc — and one of Hayes’ favorites — “Mainstream 1958,” with Coltrane and an all-Detroit supporting cast of Hayes, Wilbur Harden on trumpet, Tommy Flanagan on piano and Doug Watkins on bass.
“Musicians I talk with really put that date as one of their favorites,” Hayes said.
Even a middling jazz lover probably has 20 or more essential discs driven by Hayes’ crackling, crisp beats.
“None of us were thinking about making history,” he said. “I know I wasn’t. I was in my 20s and just happy to be involved with these artists.”
Hayes pointedly refers to jazz as “this art form” at every opportunity. The golden era of hard bop was overshadowed by what Hayes called “the business side” with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1960s.
He laughed at the story of a Columbia executive nudging piano genius Thelonious Monk to do a disc of Beatles tunes in the mid-‘60s. (Monk didn’t.)
“For what? Why would he want do to that?” Hayes asked. “The only reason is to make money. He’s who he is and they’re who they are. They didn’t reverse it and tell the Beatles to play Monk! ‘Here, sing this!’” he laughed.
As jazz seemingly flatlines, revives and evolves by turns, Hayes has vigorously stayed in the game, fronting several various-sized groups, including a Cannonball Adderley revival band and gigs with scorching young trumpeters like Jeremy Pelt and Sean Jones. He still loves his home town and has played the Detroit Jazz Festival several times. (He’ll return this September.)
“I’ve had a great rapport with Detroit,” he said.
He was thrilled to get a Spirit of Detroit Award and a tribute from the U.S. Congress in 2004, but isn’t ready to sit back and polish his trophies — or even to settle down at a university.
“I’m a player, not a teacher,” he said. At MSU, he’ll join Jazz Studies Director Rodney Whitaker and other faculty for a freewheeling week with star-struck students.
“Rodney and the professors are part of the community,” Hayes said. “I’ll only be there for a few days and I’m gone. I hope I can give my inner feelings and speak truthfully about this art form, and we all can enjoy each other for the time we have.”
2016 MSU Jazz Spectacular
MSU Jazz Octets with Louis Hayes, drums
7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14 $10/$8/FREE for students Cook Recital Hall, Music Building 333 W. Circle Drive, East Lansing
Swing Dance with MSU Jazz Orchestras
8 p.m. Friday, April 15 $10/$8/FREE for students
Demonstration Hall 229 Dem Hall Road, East Lansing Finale Concert MSU Jazz Orchestras with Louis Hayes, drums 8 p.m. Saturday, April 16 $25/$20 seniors/$15 students Fairchild Theatre 542 Auditorium Road, East Lansing (517) 353-5340, music.msu.edu