October 18, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 10
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Jazz legend Haynes recalls Hub childhood

Bridgit Brown

At a reception in New York City last month, people flocked to Roy Haynes, asking the 82-year-old drummer to give up his secret.

“They said, ‘You look and act so young,’” explained Haynes, recalling his reply: “If I tell you what my secret is, it wouldn’t be no secret.”

“I didn’t know that if you got a year or two older that you had to talk and act a different way,” he said. “I just stayed the way I was, to a certain extent, which, I guess, is the feather in my cap.”

Haynes is one of the top drummers in the world of jazz. Downbeat magazine recently selected him as its drummer of the year. His drum solo on his latest record, “Where As,” was nominated for a Grammy. He already has two Grammys at home and a handful of nominations.

Haynes has played all over the world, but his fondest memories are of growing up in Roxbury.

“I grew up in Roxbury, Haskins Street,” Haynes said. “During those days, it was like the U.N. It wasn’t predominantly black then. It was very mixed. We lived across the street from a Jewish synagogue, and we had Irish neighbors on one side and Jewish Canadian on the other, and that’s how I grew up. I’m talking about my middle 20s.

“My father bought the house on Haskins Street, and I lived in it until I was about 20 years old and a bandleader sent a special delivery letter to the musicians union for me,” Haynes continued. “In those days, we had a black one and a white one, and naturally, I belonged to the Black Musicians Union. It was 535 — they all went by numbers throughout the country. Their office was on Massachusetts Avenue. I was working at Martha’s Vineyard for the whole summer with a bandleader by the name of Phil Edmond. He was Portuguese, from the Cape Cod area. That’s when I left for New York, September 1945.”

Haynes says it only sounds like he grew up fast, but he can remember his early education.

“I went to the William Bacon School, it was my first school,” he said. “Then from there, I went to the Dudley School on Dudley Street. From there, I went to the James P. Timilty School, and they had a bugle and drum corps there and I was involved with the whole thing. From the Timilty, I went to Roxbury Memorial, which was up on Warren Street. During those days, the boys were on one side of the school and the girls were on the other, which was a turnoff for me, because at the Timilty, we were all together.

“In the black section of Roxbury during that time, there was a place called the Shaw House, on Windsor Street,” he recalled. “They were associated with the Breezy Meadows Camp, which was in Holliston, Mass. It was a summer camp for underprivileged black kids. During those days, most of us were underprivileged.”

For Haynes, the trip down memory lane includes the turbulent Sixties and one Malcolm X.

“I knew him, and I knew a lot of the people that he hung around with, but I didn’t know him well enough to chat with him, except when he had left the Nation of Islam and started his own thing,” Haynes said. “This was in the sixties. I went to hear him speak and we were supposed to talk. This was about a week before he was assassinated. I went to hear him at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, N.Y.

“In fact, when I went to hear him, this one particular time, he would have his meetings on Sundays, and the place was packed and when he got ready to leave, there were stairs that you had to go down,” he continued. “He started down the stairs and he came back up and told the people in the audience, ‘Don’t leave until after I leave because there might be some shootings.’ That next week, there was the shooting.”

Haynes also talked about Spike Lee’s 1992 movie on Malcolm X.

“There was a fellow by the name of Malcolm and he was called ‘Shorty’ in [the movie], and he was a good friend of Malcolm’s,” Haynes explained. “In fact, they were arrested together. I knew him very well. In fact, we went to the same Breezy Meadows Camp in Holliston. He was very close with Malcolm. They had the same name.

“During the early forties,” Haynes went on, “when I would play dances at the places in Boston, this one placed called The Ritz Carlton Ballroom, a lot of the old black people — men especially — they would dance with their hats on. That was a very popular thing, and Malcolm was one of those guys. It was definitely a black thing. Now, even the young rappers wear those caps, sideways and backwards. And also, on Sundays, the women would come to church with those fancy hats. They still do. So hats have always been a big thing with us.”

Haynes went on to explain his big break.

“My really big break was the one that I described, having this bandleader send for me,” Haynes said. “In fact, this man was associated with Louis Armstrong, so I go back that far. I played with Louis Armstrong for one week in 1946, with the big band. I’m a drummer.”

From then on, it was relatively simple.

“The music industry got into me,” he explained. “I didn’t get into it.”

Drummer Roy Haynes performs on the Skeppsholmen outdoor stage during the Stockholm Jazz Festival in Stockholm, Sweden, in this July 2005 file photo. Though Haynes has traveled around the world performing the music he loves, his fondest memories are of his time spent in Roxbury, where he was born and raised. (AP photo/Fredrik Persson)

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