British jazz legend and multi-reedist/instrumentalist Tubby Hayes died tragically young at only thirty-eight, but managed to pack an awful lot into his relatively short life, and this wonderfully conceived and executed documentary manages to capture the musician in his prime, with a plethora of interviews from fellow musicians, artists (Sir Peter Blake and poet Michael Horovitz) family members and jazz enthusiasts alike. What is truly impressive about this documentary is the professionalism of the final product, with stunning excerpts of Tubby Hayes live in a variety of contexts, from leading his own band on several television programmes (and not simply the seminal ‘Jazz 625’ programmes) to featuring as a soloist with musicians of the calibre of Ella Fitzgerald and even composer/conductor Henry Mancini, Tubby famously taking the ‘Pink Panther’ theme solo which is an absolute delight to view. In fact, Hayes for a period from the late 1950s through to the mid-1960s was a particularly in-demand musician who frequently appeared in films and, as sideman, on other musicians albums, and it is to the producer, Mark Baxter and film director, Lee Cogswell’s, credit that so much of this material has been re-discovered and lovingly restored with the latest technology.
Consequently, it both sounds and looks as though Tubby Hayes has been captured in his absolute prime, and as such serves as a primary historical document of Tubby’s career overall. Factor in the terrific narration of actor Martin Freeman, himself a Tubby devotee, and you have a genuine contender for best jazz documentary of the year and a fine testament to a musician who could cut it with the very best, including America’s finest jazz musicians, even performing live at the legendary New York club, the Half Note, with several top US musicians in attendance. Hayes would go on to record with Roland Kirk and back in the UK none other than Duke Ellington who would call upon his services to deputise when individual members of the band were absent, or indisposed while on a UK tour. Indeed Hayes formed a musical and personal friendship with Ellington alto saxophonist extraordinaire, Paul Gonsalves, and they recorded an album together.
There is useful and pertinent coverage of how the advent and rise in popularity of rock and roll and pop music of groups such as the Beatles adversely affected jazz musicians, who, at the beginning of the 1960s, were at the forefront of the music media, but by the mid-1960s had been largely relegated to a secondary role (no longer the main attraction for youths especially) and struggled both to find the same amount of work and attract as wide an audience as before. Hayes’ well known battle with drug addiction is thankfully not swept under the carpet and, among others, journalist Robert Elms alludes to the trap that many jazz musicians fell into at the time, believing that taking drugs would enhance their musical performance, when in reality this perception was largely illusory and addiction only contributed significantly to their self-destruction. This sadly proved to be the case with Tubby Hayes, and Hayes’ eldest son provides a heart warming account of how he came to hear of his father’s passing. The sartorial influence of how Jazz musicians looked and how Miles Davis and MJQ album covers influenced fashion is one interesting aside.
Writer and producer Mark Baxter went to considerable time and effort to put this project together and see it through to completion, and in the additional feature, an extended interview with him, we learn precisely the obstacles faced and how he and others involved sought to overcome them. We learn how Baxter was initially inspired by a mid-1980s jazz compilation, ‘Jazz Club (vols. 1 + 2 exist on vinyl)’ that featured a typically witty Tubby Hayes composition in ‘A pint of bitter’, the title of which encapsulates a distinctive British approach to the jazz idiom. This writer was similarly entranced at the time by that and a percussive number off the ‘Equation in Rhythm’ album with Jack Costanzo and both sit well alongside numbers by Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan, proof that British jazz could compete on an international scale. In general, the making of this documentary is an exemplary lesson to others who might wish to embark on future musical projects in tribute to their heroes.