By his own account, jazz drum master Roy Haynes is just one man with a passion for keeping time.
“I've always got a set of drums set up in the basement — all kinds of drums around,” he says, “if I'm not playing I'm always thinking and dreaming drums. That's always been my life, ever since I was a teenager.”
But Haynes, 86, is no ordinary drummer; he is one of the few remaining artists who provide a living prism through which to hear the beat of jazz in its heyday, when he shared the stage with legends such as Lester Young, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk.
Now entering his seventh decade as a professional musician, Haynes leads his Fountain of Youth Band at this year's Litchfield Jazz Festival, this Friday through Sunday, Aug. 5-7.
Along with the festival's 2011 Artist-In-Residence, fellow drummer Matt Wilson, Haynes will present an artist talk on Saturday at 4:30 p.m., and will perform with his Fountain of Youth Band at 8:45 that evening. Just don't expect him to come with a prepared lecture or over-rehearsed opus: “I live the same way that I play,” he says, “I don't always plan way in advance.”
These days, Haynes surrounds himself with up-and-coming jazz talent, musicians who aspire to the heights that Haynes and his former bandmates have brought jazz in the past. Since 2004, when he released the Grammy-nominated album Fountain of Youth, Haynes has maintained that format, playing this weekend alongside saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, pianist Martin Bejerano and bassist David Wong.
Although the personnel has changed since 2004 — only Bejerano played on the original album — the approach has suited Haynes well. “Having people in my band who went to school with my grandchildren, that doesn't happen too often these days,” he says with pride.
He adds that one of those grandchildren, Marcus Gilmore, will also perform at this year's festival, as the drummer for the Vijay Iyer Trio. His sons Graham and Craig are also successful musicians.
This close relationship with younger generations keeps him musically fresh. “Every day is different anyhow, that's the way I think. We may play the same tunes, but they're never the same,” he says. “I know that every moment is to be cherished.”
Recently, those moments of performance have become fewer and farther between, with tours shortened to accommodate his aging body. But Haynes doesn't expect to stop playing anytime soon. He spends his extra time practicing on his basement drum kit, always focused on how to get the most out of each beat.
“It feels good to be active the way that I'm active at this time of my life,” he says, “like a dream that hasn't even ended.”
Write to email@example.com