Jazz for Modernists 6 & 7
On a cold January afternoon in Soho, Jazz for Modernists had the pleasure of meeting Mark ‘Bax’ Baxter, author, stylist and producer of Mono Media’s groundbreaking Tubby Hayes, A Man In A Hurry (2015), a 50-minute documentary dedicated to the great, much-missed British jazz multi-instrumentalist Edward ‘Tubby’ Hayes (1935-1973). It’s a great film, already the subject of an excellent review in NutsMag by Graham Lentz HERE! Bax has been a fan of Tubby for over 30 years, embarking around 2011 on his four-year project to make a film paying tribute to a man he describes as “the face of modern jazz in the UK” in the late 50s and early 60s. Primarily a tenor saxophonist, but also an outstanding vibes player, Tubby, alongside Ronnie Scott part of the seminal Jazz Couriers from 1957 to 1959, appeared on over 60 LPs in a career that lasted until his untimely death in 1973, a sad consequence of a life lived ‘in a hurry’, but also to excess. His playing can be heard on such British 60s cinema classics as Alfie and The Italian Job, while he appeared in person in less-well-known cult films such as All Night Long (1962) and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965). Beyond jazz and film, he arranged and led the brass section on Family’s Music in a Doll’s House (1968) before the saxophone became a regular ingredient in early progressive and jazz-rock line-ups. Bax, who is also co-author with Paulo Hewitt of The A to Z of Mod (Prestel, 2012), explains in detail the genesis of his film and its subsequent success.
01: So, how did this project come about?
MARK BAXTER – Initially through the mod scene, mod revival…My family have always been interested in clothing and bespoke-made suits. The mod thing fitted in with that. When Paul Weller formed The Style Council, I stayed with it…through some of his interviews he’d mention Blue Note jazz…He was quite a big influence on me finding other aspects of music and things. Someone said (early 80s) “try Ray’s Jazz Shop in Shaftesbury Avenue” and I just started going to the shop and picking up all the classic American jazz…Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Chet Baker. One of the guys in the shop asked me if I knew the British angle on all this and I said “not really, I’m just trying to learn my way”. He said I should listen to the Jazz Couriers, a modern jazz outfit (’57-’59)…they’ve got a really good player called Tubby Hayes. I didn’t know that name at all – no Google or Internet back then. Ronnie Scott I knew, because of the club. I became a member of the club when I was 23, just to soak up a bit of the history, find out who was playing there and learn from that. I went to see Miles Davis at the Royal Festival Hall when he was wearing sort of what I’d call clown’s clothing, big flowy silk stuff, doing cover versions of Cyndi Lauper. It was completely wrong for me at the time, but he was still Miles Davis. One day I picked up a Jazz Couriers album. I really liked the late 50s sound and started looking for more stuff on Tubby which was quite hard to find. The vinyl was very rare and expensive, but you could pick up other Jazz Couriers reissues on vinyl and a couple of Tubby solo efforts. Then a compilation come out by a DJ called Paul Murphy who used to run nights at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, jazz-dance nights. I went down there a few times. He put out a compilation called Jazz Club 2… there’s a Tubby Hayes track called ‘A Pint of Bitter’ which he recorded in New York in 1961 – VIDEO. That song stayed with me, so I just carried on my journey of interest in music and fashion. As well as a 9 to 5 office job, I worked on market stalls, had a clothes shops, so was always doing various things, but always interested in jazz and music in general. Then, around 2002, I started to write, I wanted to give it a go and get some books published. I did do that in 2003/4 and one of the first interviewers asked me what my interests were. I said “Millwall Football Club, red wine and Tubby Hayes”. I used to throw that in to get a conversation going, cos most people said “Tubby Who?” That was the general starting point. About ten years ago, I said “I will write a book about Tubby Hayes”. At first, I couldn’t find anything about him. This was early 80s, no Google, no Internet. So that was really quite a tough subject.
Jazz Club 2 (1985) featuring Tubby Hayes’ ‘A Pint of Bitter’
02: Back in the 80s, did you find any old copies of Melody Maker or Jazz Journal that had interviews with him?
MB: A couple of bits ‘n’ pieces. Back then, my general interest was 60s culture. It wasn’t specifically about Tubby or jazz in general. I was buying Rave magazines with stuff like Small Faces and The Who. I was into that general mod thing really…
03: In the mid-80s, then, was the mod scene in London moving towards a jazz direction as opposed to soul and r & b?
MB: Yeah. My main interests have always been clothes and music. Obviously, I went to a few club nights. When things started going more acid-jazzy, late 80s, Gilles Peterson, bands like Galliano, some of that woke me up because the look was quite moddy, Duffer of St. George, that clothing thing, but the music was more the stuff that I’d been listening too. The mod revival and stuff that purported to be ‘modern mod’ didn’t interest me at all. I was always going back… listening to the old bands, the originals and soul music and jazz were part of that really.
04: Around this time (early 90s), I learned a lot from the compilations by Dean Rudland…
MB: Yeah, that was always the entry point, the compilations. I was buying a lot of records, but mainly all the famous albums of Small Faces, Who, Action etc. Because jazz was so vast a subject, it was quite daunting. So compilations, I would start there, collect those and then you would pick the one or two acts or performers from those compilations and investigate further. That’s where Tubby came into it.
05: Some mods are clued up on soul jazz and Latin jazz. Would you agree, though, that some of the best 50s/60s modern jazz is still considered almost alien territory because it’s primarily music for listening to or watching rather than dancing?
MB: Yeah. I’d go to Dingwalls or Electric Ballroom and hear danceable jazz, but the stuff I was listening to at home was purely for listening to, like classic Miles Davis or Coltrane. You’d be in trouble trying to dance to some of that, I think. It was a real broad church but I kept coming back to Tubby Hayes for some reason. I’m not quite sure why.
06: You grew up in south London. Tubby Hayes grew up in south-west London. Was this a factor in your interest?
MB: Up until about 3 or 4 years ago, I didn’t know much about his personal life. Every now and then, I would need to find out something and with the Internet bits of information were coming through. But I didn’t know he was married or what he died of, or where he lived. I knew he was a London guy but I didn’t know where. I started googling his name quite a lot and I thought “there’s a book in this”. I kept seeing this guy called Simon Spillett, who’d been writing this book on Tubby Hayes for ten years (The Long Shadow of The Little Giant – The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes (Equinox Publishing 2015). I emailed him one day, probably four years ago, and asked him if he was going to do this book because, if not, I’m a writer and I want to do it. He said he was nearly there, that he’d spent two years writing the book, eight years trying to find a publisher. I said “if you want to write a book, I want to make a film”. He gave me all his research notes which is very rare in this little tiny industry we’re in. No one really gives away anything, not like that!
Simon Spillet’s authoritative volume on Tubby Hayes (2015)
07: That’s a pretty kind gesture!
MB: Yeah, that was really encouraging. I took it l on holiday with me to Italy and spent a week just reading all this stuff, which filled in all the blanks about Tubby. That he was married twice and had two kids, obviously a massive drug habit which I didn’t know much about really – that he lived in Raynes Park (South West London) as a kid, then here, there and everywhere. I still didn’t have a lot of his records at the time. The music side was “I like what I like” but I never really went mad on investigating it. Simon told me there were 60 albums out there and I thought I was never gonna get there, what with working full-time, trying to keep the wolf from the door. My first idea for the film was, having been through the publishing process, trying to get a commission. I couldn’t find anyone to back it though, so it became quickly evident that I’d have to do it myself and find the money myself.
08: Did that take a long time?
MB: Well, first of all, I saved up about three grand, thinking “well that’s a start”. Then I had to find someone who was a cameraman, editor, director, sound recordist all in one really, as I knew I couldn’t afford a crew. I do PR, short-term contracts, long-term contracts, and one job was for a band called Stone Foundation, a Midlands soul band. I went on a video shoot one day and the guy making the video was a self-contained one-man band called Lee Cogswell…[he was] very quiet, getting on with his work. I had a look through his viewfinder on his camera and the quality was great. It was really nicely framed. As luck would have it, Lee was looking to make a film. He knew nothing about jazz, but he was a musician, played drums and piano. So the music angle interested him. This was probably in 2012/13… I was aiming for a 2015 release, cos that would have been Tubby’s 80th birthday.
09: And you reached it…
MB: Yeah, just about made it. All the way through 2012-14, it was touch and go. We would find maybe two grand and then spend it quickly on expenses and bits of equipment and travelling around the country, interviewing these various people. My role of producer meant that I had to find a location; I had to get Lee down from the Midlands to film, and I had to pay for all that personally. So, it was just trying to find money all the time, really. We got the funds together and most of it was just getting Lee to film people, then obviously we needed some archive. So that was another process, getting involved with the BBC who own most of the archive.
10: What’s that archive like? The BBC is well-known for having deleted great footage from the 1960s.
MB: I had 8 or 9 hours of footage to go through including one-hour specials featuring him on one or two tracks. Ella Fitzgerald Live at the BBC from 1964/5 – a couple of solo spots where he’d stand up and play. So, in that 45-minute clip, there’d only be 5 minutes or so focussing on him, but he’d be in the line-up. We had to literally go through all these programmes trying to find the classic bits featuring Tubby. 9 hours sounds a lot, but there’s probably about an hour and a half of Tubby. But the fact that it still survives is incredible. There were one or two late 50s TV shows, then as the Sixties rolls on they are better quality and more Tubby-focussed. Jazz Goes to College, 45-minute sets with the big band, fantastic – so maybe two hours altogether. Also, Jazz 625, classic Tubby big band, which has been shown once there’s a load of clips of that on YouTube.