By this point we all know that the great jazz drummer Roy Haynes has been around for a while and that he’s played with a lot of people. Still, when you see him in person, it might take a moment before it dawns on you that Haynes is the embodiment of living history. Take, for instance, the first tune performed by Haynes and his Fountain of Youth band Friday night at Scullers — “Trinkle, Tinkle.” A Thelonious Monk composition, and not one that’s frequently played. A nice choice. And then you realize: “Wait, Roy Haynes played this with Thelonious Monk.”
So, it’s like that — tough to separate Haynes from his history, to be in the moment with his music. Haynes offers distraction enough — he jokes with the audience, interrupts his own drum solos, threatens to sing. You might say that, at 88, Haynes was pacing himself with shtick. After all, this was the first of four sets over the course of two nights. But truth be told, I’m not sure Haynes does more shtick now than when he was, oh, 80. Or even a spry 75.
The fact is, he’s still spry. And when this band got down to business, they played. On “Trinkle, Tinkle,” it would have been easy enough to solo on the chord changes, but the Fountain of Youth band, with Haynes’s cues, were playing the composition — the recurring dissonances and rhythmic displacements of the theme. Likewise on Monk’s “Green Chimneys,” where a little stop-time hiccup became a feature of the arrangement, diverting and abetting the flow of solos.
Haynes, of course, is the marquee draw, showman as well as artist (as usual, he was sartorially resplendent, in paisley-patterned jacket, blue-and-white striped shirt, and dark tie). And his set-piece solo features were clinics in layering rhythms and timbral effects (how does he get that bell-like “ping!” from his top cymbal?). But this is a distinguished band. Solos by alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, pianist Martin Bejerano, and bassist David Wong were fully engaged as well as engaging. And though the audience enjoyed egging on Haynes’s banter, they were also absorbed in the music. When Shaw finished a subtly developed solo, they whooped. They knew what they were listening to.
And Haynes did too. In his accompaniments, he had one ear on the soloist, and one ear on the form, giving each section its own color and emphasis. When Bejerano, soloing, discovered a rippling rhythmic pattern, Haynes was right there with him, almost simultaneously. On the driving, fast tempo of Sonny Rollins’s “Grand Street” (which, yes, Haynes recorded with Rollins), he was caught up in the groove — in the moment, along with the rest of us.