Jazz man’s odyssey
After nearly 20 years in the Big Apple, Charles Haynes is back and playing great music
The last time my friend Shigemi and I went to hear Charles Haynes play jazz, he saw us approaching the restaurant where he was about to perform and stepped outside to greet us. Right there on the sidewalk in front of Cory’s, in downtown Chico, he began playing his flute, creating ad lib melodies and imitating the songs of birds and pigeons.
We were delighted, of course, but not surprised. Charles Haynes is an endlessly expressive person, and music is his medium.
I remember the first time I went to hear him play jazz at the Redwood Forest restaurant, where he and a top-flight group hold down the fort on Wednesday evenings. Shigemi takes flute lessons from him, and she had asked me to join her, telling me how wonderful a player he was and how much I would enjoy it.
That was in December of last year, and what I remember now is how, every time he started playing, I stopped eating the yummy dinner I’d ordered. All I wanted to do was listen. His music was filled with such energy and passion. I saw other customers were doing the same thing. It didn’t take long before I fell in love with his jazz.
As a world-class jazz player, and as a professional composer, arranger and producer, Charles Haynes has been performing for more than 25 years in diverse places such as New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco and in Europe and West Africa. But Haynes said his professional career, in a real sense, began in New York 20 years ago, after he had left Chico to make his way in the world capital of jazz.
The city was an inspiration, he said: “As soon as you step out of your house, anywhere in New York City, everything is coming at you from all directions; impressions, noises, sounds, colors, faces and languages.”
New York produces a combination of beauty, excitement, nervous energy, stress and pressure, he explained, all of it coming from the sheer number of people there. “Music is people,” he said. “If you want to understand music, you understand people."In New York, Haynes played with a wide range of musicians, and not just jazz players. Rock ‘n’ roll, country, classical, even Irish—all were opportunities to play and pick up a little money.
He had real jobs, though. He was the resident composer for a mime troupe for three years, chaired the Jazz Studies Program at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music for three years, served as music director of the Festival Jazz All-Stars, did free-lance teaching at various schools, and generally immersed himself in the music culture of New York.
He was the primary soloist on The Song Is You, a 1989 album from noted vocalist Nicole Pasternak, and in 1996 he recorded another album with her, Paris / Rio Express, comprised mostly of his original compositions.
For a while he was part of a group called Tradewinds, which featured a jazz bassoonist, Mike Rabinowitz, who’d played with Charlie Mingus. They played clubs and wedding gigs together. Haynes also played at many local clubs, including the famous jazz joint, The Blue Note.
He played with musicians from all over the world, many from the Caribbean and West Africa. The city attracts the greatest concentration of first-rate musicians, he explains: “Sooner or later, you have to go there. New York is school."He also once taught jazz to elementary school students in a 45-minute cultural-enrichment program called “Festival Jazz All-Stars” in New York. As he tells me this, he starts snapping his fingers and then singing and pretending to play a piano, as he did with his students that day. “Jazz is all around us, everywhere,” he says.
Haynes started learning music in the age of 7, when his family moved to Chico. His parents were music lovers; his mother, who was from Austria, played a zither, a multi-stringed instrument held on the lap and picked and strummed, and his father played piano.
His parents were supportive of his learning music, but when he said he wanted to become a professional musician, they said, “No, no, no!” as he puts it. “They were afraid I wouldn’t be able to make a living,” Haynes explains.
But it was also his parents who suggested Haynes stay in New York to seek knowledge and acquire his experiences as a musician and a teacher.
Charlie Robinson, the living legend among local guitar players, has been playing with Haynes since the early 1970s. They formed a partnership, playing jazz together, just the two of them, at wedding receptions and private parties. Robinson remembers when he first met Haynes.
Robinson was teaching guitar at the old Valley Music store at the time. “He [Haynes] came in one day and started playing chords. Those were pretty chords, man,” Robinson says. “We kind of teamed up from there.”
Robinson says he doesn’t like to hang out with either younger guys who don’t care enough about music to study theory or musicians who have egotistical attitudes. Haynes has never been in either of those categories, he adds, describing his friend as an energetic man with his big heart.
“He’s a very positive guy,” Robinson says. “He lives and eats and sleeps music.”
In 1976, Haynes started his teaching career as a jazz theory instructor at Chico State University, while he played jazz in such local clubs as Canal Street, Cabo’s and the Déjà Vu Mining Co. out on the north Esplanade, all gone now.
In 1979, he acquired a master’s degree in humanities, music and media. His thesis was a two-year textbook on jazz theory called The Joys of Improvisation.
Following that, he packed up his bags and took off for New York City, where he stayed until 1998, when the death of his mother called him back to Chico. He’s been here since, playing and writing music and teaching.
Since returning, he’s come out with a new album, Live at the Taproom, recorded a few months ago at the Sierra Nevada brewery, when he joined with many of the area’s best players for a night of incendiary jazz music.
These days you can catch Haynes playing every Wednesday night at the Redwood Forest restaurant in downtown Chico. There he holds forth with his group, which he calls “Triple Tenor Madness” because, besides him, there are two other horn players, Greg D’Augelli and Mike Newman. The superb Lew Langworthy is on drums, with Charlie Robinson on guitar.
With three horn players, things get hot, Haynes says. Indeed.
Before the band starts playing, Haynes goes through a certain ritual. Each time he comes into the room and absorbs the atmosphere for 15 or 20 minutes, thinking how he can respond to the room.
“People are willing to give you their attention, stop and listen,” he explains. “This is a great honor, and I want to live up to the honor.”
Jazz offers such a rare opportunity to touch people without talking to them, he says: “Music is a higher language than words.” As a form, it combines the richest theory with the most freedom of any kind of music, he says, but it’s a conditional freedom. Just as banks make the river flow, jazz musicians have to know the technique and forms in order to create their own logic, coherence and personal style.
I’m graduating from the university and leaving Chico within two months. But I was lucky enough to have an unexpected, pleasant encounter with a world-class jazz player, Charles Haynes. While working as an intern for the Chico News & Review, I decided to write about him because I wanted to share this pleasure with the people of Chico. I hope they stop by the Redwood Forest some Wednesday evening to enjoy his wonderful music.