Harry Hayes

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The Independent Online

Henry Richard Hayes, saxophonist, bandleader and arranger: born London 23 March 1909; married 1942 Primrose Orrock (died 1998; one son, one daughter); died Stoneleigh, Surrey 18 March 2002.

Although it rarely took him abroad, the life of Harry Hayes was still an odyssey. He managed to be a part of many of the most significant events in British jazz history, beginning in 1927 when he played in the band led in London by the Spanish pianist Fred Elizalde: the jazz saxophonists Adrian Rollini and Bobby Davis and the trumpeter Chelsea Quealey came from New York to join the band and it became the first British jazz orchestra. In 1932 he was a member of the Spike Hughes Orchestra, perhaps the only British band until Ted Heath in the Fifties to be able to sell records in America.

Hayes was a member of the band led by Louis Armstrong when the trumpeter came here in 1932:

It was a breathtaking experience. What a superb player! I felt privileged to be a member of his only British band. We all found him very friendly and charming, although we had little contact with him outside the bandstand. Once the show was over he was whisked away by his manager, a very offensive fellow.

When another eminent American, the saxophonist and composer Benny Carter, came to Britain in 1937 Hayes worked at his side and played on his recordings.

In 1947 Hayes's band recorded Charlie Parker's composition "Thrivin' on a Riff" at a concert organised by the Melody Maker and his alto sax solo became one of the first British contributions to the then new Bebop style. In 1952, his band played at the first post-war concert given in England by American musicians when Hayes shared the bill with Ella Fitzgerald, Lester Young, Oscar Peterson and the other members of Jazz at the Philharmonic. From 1952 until 1958 he was a member of Kenny Baker's Dozen, a band whose weekly broadcasts on the BBC's Light Programme did much to interest the public in the best kind of jazz.

Hayes was 11 when he took his first lessons on the soprano saxophone and played his first professional jobs in Brighton when he was 17. He also played clarinet but settled on the alto sax as his first instrument.

Hayes worked in a variety of the best British dance bands. He joined Geraldo in January 1939 and stayed until 1942 when his army duties became unmanageable. At this time he recorded with the trumpeter Johnny Claes, writing immaculate arrangements and playing fine solos.

Hayes served in the Regimental Band of the Welsh Guards from 1940 until 1944 and formed his own band as soon as he was released. It began recording for the HMV label within a month and during the next three years recorded 39 titles. Although influenced by the small group led by Johnny Hodges from within the Duke Ellington band, Hayes's writing for the band remained independent. His distinguished personnel had Kenny Baker on trumpet. Over the next year it included the trombonists George Chisholm, Harry Roche and Lad Busby, the pianist George Shearing and the tenor player Tommy Whittle. He led the band in a residency at Churchill's in London from 1945 until 1947, eventually breaking it up when he rejoined first Ambrose and then Sidney Lipton.

He opened a music shop in 1947 and began giving lessons. He formed his own band again at the beginning of the Fifties and had a typically long residence at Winston's Club from 1958 until 1965. He then retired from regular playing and concentrated on his musical-instrument and record shops until the middle Eighties. Latterly he produced a couple of compact discs containing the recordings by his bands.

Steve Voce