Louis Hayes: Mastering the art form

While the roots of Jazz are up for debate, it is generally accepted that the art form we know of today first began in New Orleans around the turn of the 20th century. Of course, since then, the distinctly American music form has changed with the times, fueling the booze-filled speakeasies in the Prohibition Era of the 20’s, filling the dance floors of swing clubs in the 30’s, revolutionizing the possibilities of music with  Duke Ellington and others in the 40’s, ushering in avant-garde music after that and eventually blowing everyone’s minds with musicians like Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and a dozens – if not hundreds – of more influential, groundbreaking musicians.
Jazz, and its many artists over time, forever have their place in American music history. Drummer Louis Hayes is certainly among them.
Born in Detroit in 1937, music has always played a large role in Hayes’ life. His father played piano and drums, and his mother was an avid piano player. Jazz was the music of the time in Detroit and Hayes started playing music by the time he was 10 years old.
“[Jazz} was the music I heard growing up,” Hayes said. “I started out playing piano, but that didn’t last long. I ended up picking up the drums and listening to Charlie Parker. It didn’t take me very long to know which direction I wanted to go in. I wanted to play the art form.”
Hayes refers to jazz as the “art form” or “the music,” rather than as a genre, because he said he believes jazz is not as much a genre as a form of expression that goes beyond mere labels. Hayes said he knew from the get-go that he wanted to spend the rest of his life mastering the “art form” and it didn’t take him very long to start playing with the masters of that art form.
“I know a lot of musicians who want to learn all types of music and be good at them all, and I respect that. But, I knew the direction I wanted to go in and made the choice to pursue the art form. I knew I wanted to play Jazz Bebop, because that is what made me feel good,” he said.
Hayes started a band in Detroit as a teenager and then moved through the ranks, eventually moving to New York City and playing with legendary acts like the Horace Silver Quintet, the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, John Coltrane and the Oscar Peterson Trio, amongst many others.
“New York was really a magical time because I got to play with all of the magnificent artists I was listening to at the time. People I really admired,” Hayes said. “And together we made history. I recorded with them, and recording is history. I can became a part of history and I feel grateful to still be here, feeling great and celebrating that history by still playing music.”
In total, Hayes has played on hundred of recordings and more than 60 albums from the late 50’s until now- including a new recording that he is working on with the Jazz Communicators.
When asked how he keeps his music fresh and how he sustains the energy to keep performing and recording at the age of 76, Hayes said it all comes down to doing what you truly love to do, simple as that.
“As long as you are in tune with yourself and have the opportunity to do something you love to so, that is what keeps it fresh. That is what keeps me going,” Hayes said. “The art form is a never-ending learning process. Sure, when you are young, you have so much more energy and your mind is working much faster and you just want to do as much as you can, but that doesn’t stop when you get older. You may not have the energy you had before when you start to get older, so that aspect changes. But, the desire to create never goes away, and the feeling the music gives me will never go away.”
The “feeling” is what Hayes said he wants people to get from his music and live performances. “When people see me on stage, I want them to share that feeling with me. I want them to see me and see and celebrate the history that I was lucky enough to be a part of.”