In a town where so many are from somewhere else, Fred Hayes is a virtual native, having come to Tucson as a high school senior in 1968, then later being one of the first to graduate from what was a newly founded jazz program at the University of Arizona. You may not have heard Hayes' name, but if you're at all familiar with Tucson's jazz scene, you can bet apples to donuts you've heard Hayes at one time or another, keeping syncopated time through a labyrinth of complex rhythms and chord progressions like the sturdy mast of a ship holding up against the torrents of a storm.
These days find Hayes drumming for the Jeff Haskell Trio, started by the UA's director of jazz studies, and the Ed DeLucia Trio, starring that eponymous guitarist of TAMMIEs fame. Seasoned bassist Scott Black makes the third leg of the Ed DeLucia Trio, who together jam on numbers ranging from cool jazz to Wes Montgomery-esque pieces that are enough to lull the listener into teary reminiscences of times that never were.
Hayes has been playing since age 12. (Before you canonize his parents for having the patience to deal with a child drummer, note that Hayes comes from a family of musicians.) By the time he had gotten to Tucson, Hayes had developed an interest in soul music and R&B, particularly for the heavily percussion-driven styles of James Brown, as well as Sam and Dave, and Wilson Pickett. At the time, Hayes got involved in what he calls a horn band.
If asked how his drum style has evolved, Hayes remarks, "I don't know that my style has changed. I hope I've just gotten better. ... I like to be able to do everything." And over the past 25 years he's gotten good enough to play with the crème de la crème of the jazz world. Upon graduating from college he was enlisted in pianist Jeff Daniel's band, which at the time was a six-piece group featuring vocalist Diane Schurr. Hayes went on to later back up the likes of Joe Williams, Tommy Newsom, Mose Allison, Ernie Watts and others.
But as Hayes says, "If you only play jazz, you're not going to make a living. You have to be able to wear lots of different hats. ... I'm basically a freelance musician." So he supplements his income with some steel drum gigs over the summer in calypso bands and with whatever other drum work comes along. You can find Hayes poolside at Westin La Paloma and other resorts during the summer, clad in white pants and a flowered shirt, belting out festive Caribbean counterrhythms.
It seems you can't so much as throw a stick, or in my case a tennis ball, without running into someone familiar with Hayes and his music. As I was tossing a tennis ball for my dog, I struck up a conversation with a complete stranger at the local soccer field who, as it turned out, was one of Hayes' students at Rainbow, a local music store where DeLucia also teaches. "The funny thing about Hayes," the stranger said to me, "is that he's taught so many great drummers around town."
Some of Hayes' former students are part of Tucson's jazz scene, such as Todd Miller and Steve Ward. Others, like Andy Bell of Pathos, beat a path to local rock gigs. By Hayes' own admission, he fell into teaching only because he needed the money. "But I really enjoy it now. It's become a labor of love," he says.
The energy Hayes puts into his work as a musician and teacher is evident in the ease with which he belts out rhythms, whether that be in the forefront or as he hangs back in the cut, subdued and ready. In whatever jazz ensemble he plays, Hayes makes years of practiced training appear as natural as human breath.