Louis Hayes Interview (2017)
[Interview conducted by Maxine Gordon who was the road manager for the Louis Hayes-Woody Shaw quintet on their tour to Europe in 1976-1977].
LH: At the time we first formed the band [1970s], Junior lived in Brooklyn and I lived in Brooklyn and we had been together in Horace Silver’s band and were good friends. Cedar Walton came back from a tour of Europe and he said that there was a person in Holland who was bringing groups to Europe and that he would like for me to bring a band over.
I told him that I didn’t have a band that I was really working with at the time, but I thought real fast, and since there was this opportunity, I told him I would put a band together. Junior and I had a friendship personally and musically so the timing seemed right. He wasn’t committed to a band at the time and neither was I so he agreed to the idea. I hired Ronnie Mathews who was also in Brooklyn and a good friend, and could play on the same high level, and then we got Stafford James to play bass.
Woody Shaw was on the scene and playing great and he was glad to have the chance to work with us. It just seemed to work out perfectly. The idea of working in Europe and doing a tour was just what we needed. We came together as musicians who already knew that we could play together. We knew it was going to be a great band before we even played the first gig together. We had the right combination.
I knew Ronnie Mathews from Brooklyn. We would go to his mother’s home and she would cook for us and we would sit out in the backyard and enjoy ourselves and get a break from Manhattan. That’s when I first started knowing Ronnie. We were all playing a little before Ronnie but he was determined to catch up and he really wanted to play and to be recognized as one of the cats and he accomplished that very quickly. Ronnie was a very important member of the group he went on to be a very important person in this art form.
We spent a lot of time in the club Boomer’s which was in the Village on Bleecker Street. It was a very important place for the music in the 70s. You don’t hear too much about it or that period but there were lots of musicians working in there and lots of musicians in there to hear them. Cedar Walton worked there with Clifford Jordan, Sam Jones, and Billy Higgins. Bobby Timmons played in there. George Coleman played in there all the time with is quartet and his octet. In those days, musicians went to hear other musicians. The place could be packed with musicians and people who stayed all night to hear them. Serious jazz fans were there.
Woody would sit in with everybody. He would show up and take out his horn and he knew all the tunes and would play all night. The sets didn’t have any set time limit like now and I don’t remember how late we played but it was probably 4am before we got out of there.
Bob Cooper was the owner and he was so cool and welcoming to the musicians and the bartender was Bill Cherry. I don’t think there were too many black jazz club owners at that time. They made an atmosphere that made us want to play there and hang out there. That’s where I put the band together. I remember telling George Coleman that we needed someone to help with the band and he was the one who said, “Get Maxine.”
MG: One thing about Boomer’s was that it attracted a lot of women jazz fans because it was so cool and didn’t have that men’s club vibe that some places had. I remember that Pauletta Washington worked there as a waitress before Denzel [Washington] began his career.
LH: Woody Shaw was one of the chosen musicians of that time. Woody was making big history and we knew he was coming right behind Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Everyone knew that Woody had something special to say. Woody was younger than us but he never seemed to be a young cat. He fit right in with everybody.
During that time in the early 70s, the musicians around us were all working on their craft diligently. It was a very creative time. No one felt comfortable just playing pretty good. Guys were practicing and were trying to raise the music to the highest level they could. It was a very creative time and we wanted to prove ourselves in order to be the musicians who could play with anyone and be ready for anything musically.
Woody had a sound and style that you knew that it was him in the first few notes that he played, that really makes you stand out, and makes you very important. Woody was a wonderful friend.
I’ve had the opportunity to play with some of the best trumpet players in my era. I had the opportunity to play and record a little bit with Dizzy Gillespie, with Kenny Dorham, with Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, and some others. The way I played with Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw was the same. We were strong, and healthy, and playing on a very high level.
We had a compartment on the train with six seats, the band plus Maxine as road manager. When the train stopped for a very short amount of time at our destination, we had the drums, the bass, the luggage and could get it all off the train (some things passed out of the window) before the whistle blew to announce the departure. We never missed a gig. We would arrive in a town and go to the hotel leaving Maxine with the equipment and luggage. She would have whoever met us at the train pack everything into a van or cabs and bring it to the hotel.We put the band together and went on tour for [promoter] Wim Wigt [pronounced Vim Vict]. The first band was called the Louis Hayes-Junior Cook Quintet featuring Woody Shaw. The first tour was six weeks and then we came home for a week and went back for another six weeks. We traveled by train and played gigs in Holland, Germany, Austria, and Belgium.
We worked six nights and had one night off to rest and recuperate. On the train, I would practice and keep my hands loose and Woody would be doing exercises with the mouthpiece or sometimes he would be writing music. Maxine was always reading those train books and working on the travel. We had lots of laughs about the expression on the conductor’s face when he would come into the compartment and see our group and Max would hand him the Eurail passes and the passports.
We would have dinner together most nights but Junior wouldn’t eat with us. He would go to the restaurant with us but then ask for a table alone. He said it took too long to get served when we were all there and he didn’t like to split the check. Junior carried his own black pepper and hot sauce with him and knew what he wanted to eat before he saw the menu. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the rest of us, he just had his way of doing things. Junior Cook was one special human being.
MG: I remember, we would get to the airport and stand at the counter, they would look at these people with the instruments and the tickets, and they’d be like, ‘Oh, just go ahead. [Hayes laughs] Just go ahead, whatever, just go ahead.’ They never looked at the passport and the ticket together. Ok, six passports, six tickets. Go ahead. That wouldn’t happen now.
LH: Yes, that’s why it was magnificent that you were there with us and with you handling the business part, that made it comfortable for us, and it made it work, and that was so important that you were there.
MG: What I recall about hearing Junior Cook every night for so many weeks is that on his studio recordings you never really get to hear how great Junior was, because he had claustrophobia and he had a thing about the microphone. But live he was so creative and so interesting and so funny and clever, and so different every night after night, that these live recordings will let people know, really, what a great player he was.
LH: I agree, Maxine, totally.
MG: In reflecting on this band and this music, I realized how different you all were from each other. Individually, no two were at all similar but together, you were another entity. When you came together to paly music, the understanding and communication was so fantastic.
One night in London at Ronnie Scott’s Club, Junior told us that he wanted to form a band with Blue Mitchell after the tour. (fill in year) When we got back to New York, Woody suggested Rene McLean and we went back out on the road to Europe. Now the band was called the Louis Hayes-Woody Shaw Quintet. Some of the music changed but the band stayed at the same high level. I don’t think young musicians now can even imagine what the touring was like and how we traveled all day, got to the hotel, took a shower, got dressed, and went to the gig and played our asses off.
One of the reasons this band is so good is that we worked so many days in a row in so many different countries and so many different situations but we always came to play no matter what. For all of us, it was about the music. We really helped each other. We wanted to play together and we wanted to play on the level that we thought was the highest level.
MG: So I guess we do owe our gratitude to Wim Wigt for booking that many gigs for that many months and years.
LH: He could find a gig anywhere.
The music on these CDs reflects what we were all trying to do and how far ahead Woody Shaw was and still is. This music sounds like today or maybe like tomorrow. I have so many great memories of this band and this time with Woody, Ronnie, Stafford, Rene, and Junior.