Grits, Beans and Mexican Greens

Hayes cover 2

WP 2019 - 2GRITS, BEANS AND GREENS / COLEMAN: Where Am I Going? (5 tks). HAYES: Grits, Beans and Greens (4 tks). For Members Only (2 tks). Rumpus (4 tks). DUKE PEARSON: You Know I Care (2 tks) / Tubby Hayes Quartet: Hayes, t-sax; Mike Pyne, pno; Ron Matthewson, bs; Spike Wells, dm; add Louis Stewart, gtr on first 3 tks of Where Am I Going / Decca 7756964 (CD version)

Well, here it is, folks: the Holy Grail of British ‘60s jazz, the album that one critic claimed was more important to jazz history than finding the lost Buddy Bolden cylinder. Yes, claims this ridiculous are being made for this album which, though certainly a very good one, actually tells us nothing about Ernest “Tubby” Hayes that we don’t already know.

But first, a bit of background. These master tapes, begun on May 27, 1969 with three takes of Cy Coleman’s Where Am I Going? on which the Hayes quartet was bolstered by guitarist Louis Stewart, was then completed on June 24, 1969 without Stewart, comprising five selections. The tapes were then “lost,” in the sort of way that only the blundering idiots at Polygram (as the mega-corporation was then called) could do. In the early 2000s, jazz writer and Polygram catalogue manager Richard Cook saw entries in Hayes’ diary that detailed a number of recording sessions. Cook trawled through the Polygram archives and, in one of the great “finds” in jazz history, unearthed the 1969 tapes.

But they weren’t issued at that time. Why not? More corporate incompetence, this time under the name of Universal Music Group, which by then owned them. Cook actually retired from Polygram, and then died a few years before someone at Universal “found” them again.

Hayes recording sheet

Bear in mind, we’re talking about a mega-corp that hired the Three Stooges’ Roof Repair Company in 2008 to fix the roof of a building in Hollywood that, it turned out, housed thousands of master tapes of all music genres. The Three Stooges used a BLOWTORCH (no, I’m not making this up!) to repair the roof. They then “waited for the shingles they worked on to cool” before leaving, but apparently never heard of squirting them with FOAM to make sure that no fire would start in the wiring. About two hours after they left, the still-hot shingles burst into flames and thousands of recording masters went up in flames. Firefighters were powerless to salvage much of anything in the blazing inferno. I’m guessing that the antiquated sprinkler system didn’t work either.

On top of this, Universal then lied to the press and public and said that the damage was minimal. It was only due to investigative reporting, years later, than the true story came out. Not only did they lose a goldmine in pop masters ranging from Chuck Berry to Elton John and Nirvana, but jazz as well. Everything ever recorded by Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Dorsey, the Jay McShann band with Charlie Parker, early Count Basie and everyone else for Decca Records was gone; so too the entire Impulse! catalog, which Universal apparently also acquired along the way, which included masters by John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Russell and other jazz greats. Barely mentioned in the New York Times story was the classical hoard, which included a rare 1950 album for Decca by Nadia Boulanger in addition to all the New York Pro Musica, Russell Oberlin, Cincinnati Symphony, Ruggero Ricci and Andrés Segovia catalogs. All gone forever.

Thus I’m not surprised that the clowns at Universal lost these Tubby Hayes tapes after they were rediscovered. I would be surprised if they know where their brains are before they go to bed at night. Using the longest takes available, we then get an “album” of less than 40 minutes’ worth of music, unacceptable today but fairly normal for jazz LPs of the 1960s. Universal Music has thus issued this album three different ways: as an LP and a CD containing that less-than-40-minutes’ worth for $25.99, and as a 2-CD set containing all outtakes and studio talk for $28.99.

But why bother giving your hard-earned money to Universal when they’re allowing the full shebang to be streamed for free on Spotify? Here is the link:

As for the music, as I mentioned earlier, it is indeed excellent but no more unique or special than the kind of music Hayes had been playing for at least two years before this. In fact, if you go to YouTube you can find not only the master take of the title track from this album but also a live 1968 performance of For Members Only that is even better than the takes in this Fontana set. Of course, since Hayes was a jazz improviser and in fact one of the best of his time, the solos herein are considerably different from these other takes, so of course you’ll want to hear the whole thing. But in 1967, two years earlier, he made another album which was released, titled Mexican Green, which in my view is even more varied in the material therein. Every track is a gem and, in my opinion, the compositions on this album are more varied in style. The music on Grits, Beans and Greens is all uptempo except for the single complete take of Duke Pearson’s You Know I Care, a fine ballad played exceptionally well but scarcely a Holy Grail sort of piece. When John Coltrane’s “Lost Album” was released last year, Sonny Rollins said it was like “finding a new room in the great pyramid,” but even critic Geoff Dyer in The Guardian admitted that “the room turns out to be rather like a few of the surrounding ones, even containing versions of some of the same artifacts.” Such is the case with Grits, Beans and Greens.

Mexican GreenThe only personnel change between Grits, Beans and Greens and Mexican Green is the substitution of Spike Wells on drums for Tony Levin. Both drummers were excellent, although I admit that Wells was a bit more inventive than Levin. If anything, I’d say that Hayes’ playing is even fierier on Mexican Green. On the opener, Dear Johnny B, he comes charging out of the gate sounding so much like John Coltrane that even Coltrane fans would be taken aback, and he maintained this invention from first track to last—even in the relaxed, medium-tempo Off the Wagon, where he sounds like a cross between Sonny Rollins and Bird.

The May 27 takes of Where Am I Going?, particularly the first two, are very interesting, in part because they are played at different tempi and in part because of the inclusion of Stewart, an excellent jazz guitarist who gives the group a little more “body” to their sound (and who plays some excellent solos). It’s possible that Stewart was unavailable for the June 24 session, which is a shame because I miss his sound in the ensemble. Hayes is his usual interesting self throughout, as is Pyne on piano, and as mentioned earlier Wells is a very interesting drummer. One of the joys of listening to Hayes in his solo work is his logical sense of construction. Unlike Coltrane, who could go off on tangents, Hayes kept a clear view of where he wanted his solos to go and what he wanted them to say, and he does so. Those familiar with the Hayes group of this time already know that Mathewson was a terrific bassist, easily the equal of Charlie Haden or Jimmy Garrison.

The title track is a catchy-but-quirky original line by Hayes with a “jumpy” bass line that quickly turns into a swinger at a more conventional 4/4 rhythm, but again the solos are brilliant and there is quite some variety between takes 1, 3, and 4 (the latter being the one chosen as the master). Pyne, inspired by the leader’s playing, contributes some superb solos as well. Richardson is simply astounding in his solos as well, particularly in take 3.

For Members Only is played very well, but—as I mentioned earlier—not quite at the white heat of Hayes’ 1968 live version. Actually, I preferred take 1 to the “complete” take 2. It’s just as complete, really, and to my ears a bit more inspired. There’s really only one take of You Know I Care that could have been used, the first breaking down after about 40 seconds with Hayes exclaiming, “Ahh, f**k!” It’s a nice ballad, not too simpering, and played with just the right amount of rhythmic lift. For Rumpus, four takes were made but, in the end, the first was the one chosen to be the master anyway. It’s a splendid

Hayes LP labelSome “vinyl” collectors have complained online that Decca should have released the full version of this set in that format, but I don’t see that being a very sizeable portion of their market. I’ve already complained, loudly and long, about the idiotic “vinyl revival”; the music sounds, to the naked ear, absolutely no different in either format when mastered from the exact same tapes, and of course LPs, even when taken good care of, are subject to crackle, ticks and pops whereas CDs are not.

Not, then, a real revelation of hitherto unsuspected abilities by Hayes and Co., but clearly an excellent jazz album, well worth adding to your collection.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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