Today I want to share with you two albums that are so rare they’ll likely come as a surprise to even the most knowledgeable jazz fans. The albums—Just Friends and Change of Setting— paired British saxophonist Tubby Hayes with Ellington saxophonist Paul Gonsalves. Just Friends was recorded in 1964, while Change of Setting was recorded a year later but not released until 1967. They are superb and grow on you with each listen. How did Hayes and Gonsalves wind up together on two albums recorded in the U.K.? [Photo above of Tubby Hayes]
Our story begins on Saturday, Feb. 15, 1964, when Duke Ellington was rehearsing his orchestra at London’s Royal Festival Hall between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in preparation for two concerts that evening. Completed in 1951, the Royal Festival Hall was among the first in the world to be designed using theoretical and experimental acoustic principals. But despite the architects’ best efforts, the building still needed alterations later in 1964 to add foyers, terraces and dressing rooms and to improve the interior’s sound reverberation. [Photo above of Paul Gonsalves by Jan Persson]
But Ellington had bigger problems than the hall’s sound. Toward concert time, his star saxophonist Gonsalves was nowhere to be found. More than likely, he was on one of his drug benders. Fortunately for Duke, someone spotted British saxophonist Tubby Hayes, who had come to hear the Ellington band. According to Ken Vail’s Duke’s Diary, Part Two (1950-1974), Duke had one of his musicians coax Hayes into sitting in for the absent Gonsalves. The musician didn’t have to ask Hayes twice. A call was quickly placed to Ronnie Scott’s club to have someone cab over with Hayes’s horn. In Vail’s book, Hayes recalls what happened next:
It was tremendous. I felt as if I was dreaming. Some of the parts were pretty difficult, such as “Harlem,” with its change of tempo. There weren’t any charts for a couple of things, so those I didn’t know I didn’t play. “Rockin’ in Rhythm” I knew OK. [Photo above of London’s Royal Festival Hall]
The band was very helpful, especially Jimmy Hamilton. Some of them weren’t played as written, so he tipped me off as to what to leave out, where to come back in and so on.
The second time through I knew what was coming better, so I was able to watch Duke more. Playing in that section was wonderful The quality of sound was quite frightening at times. And they didn’t seem to be blowing over-loud. As for the band as a whole—most of the time I was concentrating on looking for the music and playing, but I particularity noticed [trombonist] Lawrence Brown’s terrific sound behind me. [Photo above of Duke Ellington in 1964]
At the end of each of the two performances that evening, the audience gave the band and Hayes a standing ovation. The Ellington Orchestra was especially grateful to Hayes. A few days later, Gonsalves dropped by Ronnie Scott’s to thank Hayes. One thing led to the next, and the two saxophonists played a couple of sets together. They liked what they heard.
A recording session was set up by Hayes’ bandmate and baritone saxophonist Jackie Sharpe, who paid for studio time, contracted the musicians and would produce both dates. The band on the first album, Just Friends, included Gonsalves, Hayes and Sharpe along with Jimmy Deuchar (tp, mello), Les Condon (tp), Keith Christie (tb), Stan Tracey (p), Lennie Bush (b) and Ronnie Stevenson (d).
The result was so spectacular that a year later, on Feb. 15, 1965, when Ellington was once again in Europe on tour, Sharpe brought Gonsalves and Hayes together for a second album. The musicians on Change of Setting, were Tony Coe (as,fl,ts), Tubby Hayes (ts,fl,vib) Paul Gonsalves and Ronnie Scott (ts); Ray Nance (tp, vin); Jackie Sharpe (bar); Terry Shannon (p); John Lamb (b) and Ronnie Stephenson (d).
As Gonsalves fans know, the saxophonist was occasionally paired with other key jazz players on albums in the early 1960s. Salt and Pepper with Sonny Stitt comes to mind, as does Tell It The Way It Is! with Johnny Hodges, both for Impulse. But with Hayes and the other British jazzers on these two U.K. albums, Gonsalves had a decidedly different feel. Instead of a driving, competitive sound, his blowing was more relaxed and fluid. So much so that after listening to these a few times, you start to realize that Gonsalves and Benny Golson shared similarly smokey and slippery blowing styles. Tony Crombie’s Deb’s Delight on Change of Setting is a standout in this regard, as is Les Condon’s Speedy Gonsalves and Hayes and Gonsalves’ Tupa on Just Friends.
These two albums are perfect in every way. They reflect the mutual respect and friendship of two great artists, and the results are warm and spirited. It’s as if Hayes and Gonsalves were sitting around having a fascinating conversation and let us hang around and listen in.
JazzWax tracks: You’ll find Just Friends here (it comes with Hayes’ London Swings) and Change of Setting (Harkit Records) here. I don’t see the latter one available in the States, so you may have to email the label in the U.K. for information.
JazzWax clips: Here’s Tupa from Just Friends…
Here’s Deb’s Delight from Change of Setting…
Here’s Tubby’s Theme…
And here’s Speedy Gonsalves (with Ray Nance on violin)…
A special thanks to David Langner.