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A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, KNKX and Jazz24 celebrate highly regarded jazz creators who continue to inspire.

Louis Hayes' dynamic drumming brings an overwhelming happiness to jazz

A man in a cream cloured suit and glasses stands beside a green bush.
Louis Hayes Press Kit
Detriot Native Louis Hayes has collaborated with many jazz giants, but his decades-long career proves that the 86-year-old is a jazz giant in his own right.

Louis Hayes was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1937. Growing up with a love for big bands, he found a mentor in the Count Basie Orchestra: drummer Joe Jones. While both his parents played piano, and his father was also a drummer, it was his cousin Clarence Stamps, whom Hayes counts as his “number one drum teacher.”

Detroit was a hotbed of jazz at the time. Hayes worked around the city with fellow future jazz stars like trombonist Curtis Fuller and multi-reed player Yusef Lateef, whose debut album in 1957 was also Hayes’ first recording.

He moved to New York that same year, and he was soon back in the studio with Detroit products guitarist Kenny Burrell and pianist Tommy Flanagan on a record called The Cats. That album also featured a young saxophonist from Philadelphia who’d recently found fame in the Miles Davis band, Mr. John Coltrane.

Around the same time, Hayes replaced drummer Art Taylor in the Horace Silver band. This was his first important musical home. He stayed with Silver’s band for three years, appearing on classic recordings like “Senor Blues.”

In 1959, Hayes moved on to join the Cannonball Adderley band where he played for the next six years. Some say it was Adderley’s finest group, recording hits like “Jive Samba,” “This Here,” “Unit 7,” and Nat Adderley’s “Work Song.”

A third jazz legend hired Hayes in 1965. He joined the great Oscar Peterson trio, one of the hardest swinging outfits in jazz history, for albums like Reunion Blues with Peterson and vibes star Milt Jackson and the great trio LP Blues Etude.

By 1967, Hayes was ready to lead his own bands – bringing top musicians like trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and saxophonist Joe Henderson to his group.

By 1972, the Louis Hayes sextet was co-led by his Horace Silver band connections Woody Shaw and Junior Cook, which Hayes reformed as a quintet a few years later.

He released a self-titled album in 1960, but the 1974 recording Breath of Life was really his first album as a fully developed musician and band leader.

Hayes collaborated with more jazz giants over the years, including pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Sam Jones, and saxophonist Dexter Gordon in the '70s and pianist McCoy Tyner’s trio for three years in the late '80s. By 1990, Hayes co-led the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band with saxophonist Vincent Herring.

In a 2017 interview for NYU Jazz Studies, Hayes said he owes his successful career to knowing who he was and who he wanted to be. He loved the music for its creative possibilities and because its egalitarian nature meant the personality of each musician mattered.

"I’ve always felt good about this music when I was coming up as a kid, because everyone is recognized on a certain level – it’s not like playing with the Four Tops. You know, who’s playing drums really don’t make any difference. But with this art form, everybody is important."

Hayes brought an overwhelming happiness to the world of jazz, which always translated to his bandmates and especially to the audience listening to Hayes play his drums. In 2023, Hayes was named an NEA Jazz Master.

Louis Hayes, the prolific jazz drummer from Detriot, will turn 87 at the end of May.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.