One of the most intriguing sequences in Tubby Hayes: Man in a Hurry, Mark Baxter and Lee Cogswell’s documentary about the British jazz musician, Edward ‘Tubby’ Hayes, concerns the time he was drafted, at the last moment, into the saxophone section of the Duke Ellington Orchestra for a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Duke’s band were in this country on tour and their star tenor player, Paul Gonsalves – famous for playing a 27 chorus solo during a performance of Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival – was, shall we say, indisposed. Hayes, who was at the concert minus saxophone, was somewhat hastily summoned by the Duke and invited to deputise; a phone call to the Ronnie Scott Club brought the missing saxophone to the Hall by cab and, some little way into the concert, Tubby walked on stage, unannounced, and took his place amongst the section.
Reader, I was there. Sitting alongside my friend, Jock, and, along with many others in the audience, feeling a real frisson of recognition at the Englishman’s appearance – one of the rare occasions a genuine sense of patriotism stirred within me.
It was a moment I’ve long cherished and which I’ve written about, slightly disguised, on more than one occasion. The first was in the script of my television play, Just Another Little Blues Song, in which Adam Faith played Frank, a jazzman whose gambling habit puts paid to his career. Produced for the BBC in 1983 by Terry Coles and directed by John Bruce, with Duncan Lamont playing Frank’s tenor on the soundtrack, it featured Gwen Taylor as Frank’s former girl friend, Jane. And, borrowing from the Hayes-Ellington moment at the Festival Hall, it was to Jane that I gave a speech describing to her husband Frank’s moment of glory playing with the Count Basie Orchestra.
MATTHEW: Basie? Frank didn’t really play with him?
JANE: Sixty-seven. Basie was at the Festival Hall and Frank Foster was taken sick. Some sort of bug. They called Frankie at the last minute. He’d been doing a gig at the old Scott club.
(LIGHTS A CIGARETTE, EXHALES, BLOWING SMOKE TO THE SIDE)
We were sitting in the front row. Frankie had got us ticket through some connection. Half a dozen of us. There was this five piece sax section with an empty chair. A couple of choruses into the fourth number, who comes walking out on stage but Frankie. Hand round the bell of his horn and a grin on his face wide enough to launch a boat in.
By the time he’s got to his seat half the audience had recognised him and this great cheer went up all round us like … like I don’t know what. Frankie just clips his sax onto the sling, the feller next to him points to the music and he starts blowing as if he knew the book by heart.
Before the interval Basie called him out front for ‘Jumping at the Woodside’. Two tenors. He shut his eyes tight and blew that other poor bastard off the stage. When the shouting died down, Basie has this little grin round the corners of his mouth; he showed Frankie he was to stay where he was and called this thing Eddie Davis used to play.’Whirlybird’. Fast, fast, fast. You couldn’t hear the end of his solo for the noise. I felt so … I was so bleedin’ proud. It was like nothing I ever …
(SHE STOPS, LOOKS AT HER HUSBAND, WHO IS STARING AT HER, EXPRESSIONLESS)
Terry Coles confessed to me afterwards that, aside for the jazz – a big jazz fan, Terry – it was that speech and more or less that speech alone that made him decide to do the play. When Gwen Taylor did it to camera, Terry said, and every time he watched it on tape afterwards, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck start to rise. Well, she’s that good.