The Root Interview: Roy Haynes on the Fountain of Youth

The elder grandmaster of drums Roy Haynes talks with The Root about his upcoming season-opening concert for Jazz at Lincoln Center, his roll call of influences and why his style remains in the pocket.


Roy Haynes percolating on drums is like Ali dancing on the tips of his toes, jabbin', snapping heads back, which is why they call him "Snap Crackle," for the way Haynes pops the pulse, the groove. He doesn't just keep time rudimentally -- he plays with time, listens oh so closely to his younger band mates and responds with empathy. Whenever you see him, he's always clean, dressed to the nines; in fact, back in the 1960s he was one of Esquire magazine's best-dressed men. He has a taste for vintage cars, but it's his tasty drumming style that really sets him apart and through which he's made his mark. 

In the first several decades of his career, Haynes on the regular played with the icons of jazz: Pops, Prez, Bird, Diz, Monk, Miles, Mary Lou, Getz, Coltrane, Billie, Sarah, Ella, to name a bunch. Nowadays, he's a great-grandfather whose aptly named Fountain of Youth Band travels the world summoning wonder. Very recently, Haynes made an impromptu appearance at Sonny Rollins' 80th-birthday concert and threw down the gauntlet of pleasure with Rollins, Christian McBride and free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman.

The Root chatted with Haynes by phone a few days after that concert.

The Root: You're 85 and playing as masterfully as ever. Those who see you, onstage or off, are amazed by your energy and drive, creativity and flair. Along with the music, what allows you to maintain the energy of youth while being in your 80s?

Roy Haynes: [laughter] I'm getting that question all over the world now, man, especially females coming up to me.

TR: Uh-oh, watch out!

RH: I'm serious! It's beginning to amaze me! You know, 'cause I'm not thinking about that. Every day, man, when I wake up and I see the sun, I'm just … ready for it. I never even thought I'd be living this long, let alone trying to play. It's a very exciting period, man.  

TR: All over the globe, you're one of the most beloved and celebrated jazz musicians. Tell us some of the places you've recently traveled to.

RH: France has always been good to me; Paris, you know? We did a lot in Italy, some in Spain. And oh, man, one of the last most exciting ones was Israel. I've been there a couple of times before, but this time, man, oooh.

TR: What was special about this time in Israel?