Back in the day, a magazine article highlighting the longevity of an esteemed group of Boston Brahmins asked one of the octogenarians, it may have been Samuel Eliot Morison, how it was that they managed to live such long and productive lives. His answer was memorably matter-of-fact: “We don’t go to Florida in the winter.”
Today is the 89th birthday of another renowned Bostonian, the Roxbury-born drummer Roy Haynes. While Roy has surely been to Florida, if only on tour, you might think he’d discovered what Ponce de Lion was in search of six centuries ago. He even calls his sidemen the Fountain of Youth, but those youngsters can only hope they’ll be graced with the age-defying vitality of their leader. Like his Yankee counterparts, Roy’s just kept on working, and he’s obviously taken great care of himself. He remains as sharp as ever as a player, and his sense of humor’s eternally youthful too.
Just watch him in this interview filmed in 2012 recalling the name his early employer Lester Young gave to the small size of Roy’s 20-inch bass drum; his lack of skill in the “rudiments” of drumming; how cool it was to wear horn rim glasses, whether you needed them or not, in the late ‘40’s; how it went down when Charlie Parker hired him; and his inclusion in Esquire’s Best-Dressed list in the late ‘50’s. Roy says he and Miles Davis were the first black men on the list, and takes modest delight in thinking of himself as a trailblazer for the race. At 86, he was still cutting some serious rug as a tap dancer too.
When I last saw Roy a few years ago in a crowded hotel lobby, I asked him if he’d seen his haberdasher Charlie Davidson of the Andover Shop lately. Moments later, a man joined in to say he was a photographer and that he’d taken a picture of Roy that he used on his business card, which he promptly produced from his wallet. Roy’s look was one of total incredulousness. “You’re using my image to promote your business?” Alec Baldwin could have taken a lesson in how to seethe without screaming. But the photographer quickly reassured him that he wasn’t exploiting Roy for profit, nor stealing his identity, which seemed to be Roy’s first concern. It was unforgettable.
Here’s Roy on Late Night with David Letterman in 2011. Can you think of another jazz artist of his stature who’s graced the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater in recent years? Would that Letterman’s tastes extended beyond rock. Years ago, Paul Schaffer said he’d seen McCoy Tyner as he and Dave discussed what they’d done over the weekend, but Letterman drew a blank. For Roy’s 85th birthday, however, even Dave got hip.