Simon Spillett on Tubby Hayes @ 80

This Friday, 30th January, marks a very important event in the jazz calendar, the 80th anniversary of the birth of a great man and musician, Tubby Hayes.

For all his fans, he was and always will be, the innovator, the master, the wizard, and for all his “new” followers, well, a lot of material to discover nowadays in all the wondrous recordings.


Tubby’s craftsmanship is there to enjoy and savour and, so, what better way than to have the “formidable” Simon Spillett, tenor saxophonist par excellence and Tubby’s aficionado, tell us a little bit more about the great Mr Hayes?

Erminia: A question “de rigueur”, Simon: what does the saxophone mean to you?

Simon: Playing the saxophone is a constant stimulus to me – it’s been a huge part of my life since I was sixteen years of age, as has jazz. It presents a never-ending challenge – the ultimate lifetimes work!

Erminia: We are approaching the 80th anniversary of Tubby Hayes’ birth. How did Tubby enter your life?

Simon: My Dad introduced me to his music via a repeat of the famous Jazz 625 BBC TV show and the album Tubbs’ Tours. I would have been around 12 years of age when I first heard him, but my serious interest in his work started around my late teens. After that I collected everything I could on him – written and recorded. The fascination just grew from there to the point where it seemed the next logical step to write a book about his life. Discovering his music was a big turning point for me.

Erminia: Tubby was an incredible versatile musician. How has his playing influenced yours?

Simon: Tubby was a multi-instrumentalist – tenor sax, flute and vibraphone were his main choices but he also recorded on everything from piccolo to piano, as well as composing and arranging for all kinds of line-ups. I’m a tenor saxophonist only and it’s that side of Tubby’s talent that has most inspired me. There is just something about his approach to the tenor that excites me and makes me want to play – it really moves me.

Erminia: As an incredible writer and journalist, you have been able to work on previously unreleased tapes by Tubby as well as his personal archive. How did this feel when you started work on them?

Simon: It’s been an great honour to work on these projects. With the “80th” looming, the impending publication of my biography on Tubby and the forthcoming documentary “Man In A Hurry” there’s a real buzz about Tubby’s life and work and the moment – it’s great to be right at the heart of it all. To find so much first-class unissued music is a major bonus. Just this week a “lost” album recorded for Fontana in 1969 has been rediscovered – a really significant find.

Erminia: What is your view on “The Jazz Couriers”? A fundamental quintet in the history of jazz, would you say?

Simon: THE fundamental quintet in the history of British jazz, yes. They were the first English band to really insist on virtuoso standard jazz performance – hence all the tricky arrangements and fast tempos – but to me there was much more to the Couriers than that: they had bona-fide authenticity, whatever the tempo or the mood. Take the album they made for the American Carlton label (The Couriers of Jazz, 1958) – one of my all-time favourite records – it sounds as good as many a Blue Note session of the time. Small wonder than Dave Brubeck once praised the band for sounding more American than his own!

Erminia: Do you have a favourite album by Tubby? If yes, why?

Simon: That’s a hard one to pin down. The first Tubby album I bought was For Members Only, a collection of BBC broadcasts released in 1990, which has always been a bit of touchstone for me, and I’ve been equally moved by Tubby’s Groove, 100% Proof, The Couriers of Jazz and Live In London Vol. 1 – not to mention all the live dates that have recently been discovered and issued – but my all time favourite has to be Mexican Green. I spent a fortune buying it as a Japanese import back around 2003 and it was on morning, noon and night for an entire summer after that. I carry a copy with me in my case to this day. To me, it’s a classic record – up there with the very best in jazz – Tubby’s Kind of Blue, if you like.

Erminia: Have you ever felt jealous of a guy like Tubby? He was an amazing artist and shone bright albeit for such a short time!

Simon: Jealousy – no. Admiration and respect – yes. Tubby was a a genuine rarity – a one-off – and there was and is nobody who can do what he did the way he did it. He inspires me and influences me but I’ve never felt any kind of envy towards his music. In fact, what I hear in Tubby is enormous warmth, humanity and spirit – these qualities are really inspirational – they draw you in rather than put you off.

Erminia: The Ronnie Scott’s Tubby Hayes @ 80 this coming Sunday 1st Feb, is sold out at Ronnies. How do you feel about this? Playing on an anniversary like this IS an important event. How do you prepare for something like it? Or do you just “dive” into it?

Simon: I’m thrilled that so many people want to celebrate this milestone and I can’t think of a better place to do so than at Ronnie’s – Tubby’s spiritual home. I’ve been playing Tubby’s compositions and repertoire for a number of years now but this is something special – John Critchinson, Dave Green, Spike Wells and Bobby Wellins all knew and worked with Tubby so there is a huge personal connection to him. This will be Tubby’s music played the way we play it – not a note-for-note recreation – and I’m humbled to be involved.

As for preparation, I’ve spent a lot of time immersing myself in Tubby’s recordings again – every time I hear him I’m still staggered at his talent. I’ve been listening to some of his records now for close to thirty years and I never tire of them – like John Coltrane, Tubby is one of those players who can really lift your spirits.

Erminia Yardley

Tubby Hayes @ 80, Ronnie Scott’s Club, February 1st 2015: The Simon Spillett Quartet featuring John Critchinson, Dave Green & Spike Wells. With Special Guest Star: Bobby Wellins. SOLD OUT!


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