Harry Hayes
Photo by Dennis Matthews

Harry was the Guv’nor. Ronnie Scott
The Rolls-Royce of the saxophone. Don Lusher
The best tone in the world. Harry Klein
An immaculate musician. Humphrey Lyttelton
A great lead alto. Kenny Baker
A legendary virtuoso. Digby Fairweather
One of the greatest players. Alan Dell
Harry Hayes’s lovely sound, superb melodic invention, immaculate musicianship
and supreme confidence combine to present a display of aural delights in a concentration
which will rarely be surpassed. Ken Rattenbury

CODA CLUB photo  Remembering Harry  Harry and Friends

Harry Hayes won a school scholarship at eleven years old, for which his father rewarded him with a soprano saxophone. He made fine progress and at 16 gained his first steady professional engagement at the Regent Dance Hall in Brighton where Benny Green’s father, Dave, was in the band. At 17 he was good enough to play at the famous Kit Kat Club in the Haymarket, Piccadilly, with American bandleader Al Payne, and in 1927 at 18 years old joined a mixed Anglo-American band led by Fred Elizalde at the Savoy Hotel.

For two years Harry sat in front of famous American bass sax player Adrian Rollini, an experience he always swore to have been invaluable to him as a young musician.

After the Savoy a succession of jobs followed, at Ciro’s Club, The Cafe de Paris, Spike Hughes big recording band, with Maurice Winnnick, Louis Armstrong on his first European tour, Sidney Lipton at Grosvenor House and Geraldo back at the Savoy Hotel in 1938. When the war began in 1939 the Geraldo band became the BBC Dance Band, doing at least nine broadcasts weekly. Harry was featured and became well known. He joined the Welsh Guards Regimental Band together with his friend George Evans—army musicians were allowed to play with civilian bands up to the end of 1942.

Harry was discharged in late 1944 and became a much in demand session player, particularly at the EMI studios in Abbey Road. The man in charge there asked Hairy if he would like to record with a band of his own, Harry said yes, and formed the band that caused a sensation in 1944 to 1947.

The band opened the Churchills Club in Bond Street, Mayfair, and almost at the same time Harry opened his first musical instrument shop in Shaftesbury Avenue. The band was kept going and stayed at Churchills for nearly two years, after which it played at various West End establishments. Harry moved to Soho with his shop until 1958 when he moved to Fulham.

In late 1947 he had a band at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket, and also played at Winston’s club, where he stayed for eight years until retiring from playing in 1965. He also came top of eight Melody Maker polls for alto saxophone during this period. He had no less than three shops in Fulham and sold these in 1985 to move to Surrey, near to his daughter. He played at the Birmingham International Jazz Festival in 1992. Harry was granted the Freedom of the City of London in 1988.

Harry Hayes died on 21st March , 2002, aged 92

Mike Senn—Remembering Harry

About 1943, I fell in love with Johnny Hodges, then Harry Hayes when I heard him at one of the jazz concerts that used to be held during the war to keep up morale.

For some strange reason, there was an old Boosey & Hawkes alto in our house. When I read in the Melody Maker that Harry was giving lessons, I badgered my parents until they let me take some lessons with him. I actually turned up for my first lesson with the old alto, never having blown it at all. I think Harry was quite surprised.

Harry was a good teacher, never talked down to you, and was very patient with his pupils. His pupils had a good reputation, bandleaders often rang him up if they needed a sax player. He placed many of his pupils in their first jobs. Also, he was great fun to be with. I remember going into his music shop one day, "come & listen to this" he said. We went downstairs and he played me an acetate of Bird's "Thriving on a Riff". We played it over and over, discussing how logical this new music was. It was the first time I had heard BeBop.

One thing about Harry's playing that I never hear mentioned, is the originality of his style. As soon as he played you knew that it was him. There are loads of jazz players who blow up a storm, but have no distinctive style of their own. Developing your own style must be one of the most difficult things for a jazz player, Harry was one of the few that did it.

To give you a flavour of being with Harry: It was summer about 1944, I was 15. After I had a lesson at Weekes studios, we went to have a cup of tea at a cafe. While we were there, three lads about 11 years old came in and sat down. When the waitress came for their order, they said "How much is strawberries and cream?" The waitress said 2/6. The boys pooled all their money on the table top, they had just 2/6. "We'll have one portion", they said.

By now Harry and I were leaving. As we got to the till by the front door, Harry said to the waitress, "Give them each a portion," paid the waitress 7/6, and we left.

Top tenor man Aubrey Franks was with Harry in Geraldo's band. They used to do broadcasts with the concert orchestra—the dance band plus strings. When the strings were featured, the saxes would get forty or fifty bars rest.

Aubrey said, "I never counted the bars rest, I just waited until, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Harry's bell come up, and I would come in with him. During one broadcast, I was sitting there dreaming, waiting for Harry's bell to come up. After a while I knew that our entry must be near, but there was no movement from Harry. The entry was getting nearer and nearer, so I looked at Harry. He was fast asleep with the "Racing Times" across his knee."

March 27th, 2002

I went to Harry Hayes' funeral this afternoon, a good turnout. Ken Mackintosh was there, 82 and looking good. Also Stan Reynolds, Tommy Whittle, Henry MacKenzie, Roy Willox, Bill and Gracie Geldard, Harry Klein and many others.

I thought there was one beautiful moment. Harry's record of Drop Me Off at Harlem was playing, and as they brought in the coffin Harry's solo burst out of the ensemble with that wonderful sound. For a moment it was as if he was alive again.

Mike Senn