The engrossing book, due out November 15, 2023, features stories of Haynes’ encounters with legends like Lee Konitz, Anthony Braxton, Dave Liebman and Paul Smoker, along with poetry, musical analysis and lessons from a life in music. The release will be accompanied by the career-spanning, eight-hour compilation A Life Improvised, a 62-track collection encompassing Haynes’ myriad projects and collaborations.
“In [Chasing the Masters], you find the beauty of Phil and his way of living. His artistry percolates beyond the rims of the glass (or of a drum), as all of the world becomes his canvas.” – Vocalist Nicholas Horner, from the Foreword to Chasing the Masters
“Since arriving in New York from Oregon in 1983, drummer Phil Haynes established himself as a potent force on the downtown composer/improviser scene.” – Bill Milkowski, JazzTimes
Looking back over his long and wide-ranging career, veteran drummer, composer and improviser Phil Haynes knew that he had a story to tell. His only question was whether there was an audience to tell it to. After all, Haynes had crossed paths with many of the music’s most legendary and influential figures – names like Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz, Anthony Braxton, John Abercrombie, Jack DeJohnette, Marilyn Crispell, Kenny Werner, Joe Lovano, John Tchicai, Ben Monder, Theo Bleckmann and his mentor, undersung trumpet great Paul Smoker, among countless others. Yet Haynes feared that since his own name had never quite joined that pantheon, perhaps his story would fall on deaf ears.
“For a long time I felt like I hadn’t quite achieved my dreams,” Haynes says. “My models were Elvin Jones and Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette – innovators. Maybe I never managed become an innovator like them, but I did my own thing. I have an identifiable sound, and I did play with masters.”
It was at the urging of one of those living legends, NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman, that Haynes determined to pen his captivating new memoir, Chasing the Masters: First Takes of a Modernist Drumming Artist. “While driving back from a gig some years ago,” Haynes recounts in the book’s introduction, “Liebman told me, ‘Bro, you are approaching the age where you will feel moved to write a book – to share your story – and by the time you get into your 60’s you’ll have plenty to say of interest to students, colleagues, critics, historians, and fans.’ The Lieb-seed had been planted and only just recently began to surface, suddenly, as promised.”
Due out November 15, Chasing the Masters takes its title from what, Haynes explains, has been a lifelong vocation. “I spent my teens and 20s – maybe even my early 30s – trying to figure out how I could pursue this music,” he says. “Finally I realized that the pursuit was the music. If you’re always chasing the masters, you’re much more likely to reach your full potential.”
Haynes’ pursuits can be vividly experienced via A Life Improvised, a 62-track, career-spanning companion compilation available September 15 via Haynes’ Bandcamp page. A Life Improvised brings together examples of the drummer’s work with the likes of trumpeter Paul Smoker, guitarists Jim Yanda and Adam Caine, vocalist Nicholas Horner and pianist Micu Narunsky, alongside the composers collective Joint Venture and Haynes’ own projects Continuum, 4 Horns & What?, Hammond Insurgency, Free Country, Day Dream, Sanctuary and No Fast Food. The eight-hour collection includes contributions from saxophonists Liebman, Anthony Braxton, John Tchicai and Ellery Eskelin; trumpeter Herb Robertson; violinist Mark Feldman; cellist Hank Roberts; pianists David Kikoski and Steve Rudolph; bassists Drew Gress and Ed Schuller, and others.
Chasing the Masters does more than tell the life story of an adventurous and endlessly curious jazz drummer; it details the struggles and exhilarations of a life in music, the eccentricities bred by the singular demands of the arts and the road, the alchemical surprises (and occasional shocks) of a lifelong experimentation in sound. The narrative swings from autobiography to exuberant musical analysis, anecdote to poetry to illuminating life lessons. Like Haynes’ music, it’s a memoir that acknowledges tradition while finding its own form and path, a book that defies expectation and takes its unique shape from the author’s own instincts and inspirations.
Many of the pieces that weave together into the book’s tapestry straddle those categories. A recollection of working with the legendary saxophonist Lee Konitz when Haynes was 20 challenges young musicians to, “hear each and every note of the sonorities [they create].” A quip from the ever-sardonic Tim Berne about record producers (“You mean the cat who makes sure the Chinese delivery order is straight and on time?”) spawns an insightful guide through the challenges of the modern recording process. A section on Haynes’ teaching career at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University unfurls into a dissection of classroom versus bandstand learning; a philosophical treatise on music education; testimonials from former students offering varied perspectives; even a top ten list of recordings valuable for the student musician.
Along the way Haynes recounts the founding of Corner Store, the humble yet fertile Brooklyn storefront space that spawned a vibrant improvising scene in the mid-80s; his always-memorable run-ins with the demonstrative Anthony Braxton; confrontations with the brutally honest saxophonist Jim Pepper; and in-depth investigations of how his sound and identity have evolved through experience and encounters. He occasionally interrupts his musical story for a bit of poetry, a reverie on fine wine and good cooking, an ode to his wife of over 35 years, or a confessional look at battling depression.
Perhaps most poignant is the portrait that emerges of the late Paul Smoker, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 75. “Paul never wrote a book, though he could and should have,” Haynes says, and it’s obvious that he saw Chasing the Masters as providing an opportunity and a responsibility to tell Smoker’s story as well as his own. Through the drummer’s eyes we see an innovative artist with an often prickly personality, an incisive, keenly direct perspective into music-making, and a curmudgeonly nurturer and mentor.
The release of Chasing the Masters arrives in the midst of a three-year project revisiting and re-releasing many of the key projects from Haynes’ catalogue, including collaborations with the likes of David Liebman, Drew Gress, Ben Monder, Hank Roberts, Ellery Eskelin, David Kikoski, Mark Feldman, Kermit Driscoll, Herb Robertson, and lost greats including Paul Smoker and John Tchicai. The series kicked off on Haynes’ 62nd birthday in June with Coda(s), the third album from his exploratory trio No Fast Food.
2024 will begin with a 3-CD/digital set compiling the complete American recordings of 4 Horns & What(?), Haynes’ quintet variously featuring Paul Smoker, Ellery Eskelin, Andy Laster, John Tchicai, Herb Robertson and Joe Daley, including the group’s previously unreleased final concert. That’s followed by a 4-CD set by Free Country, combining the quartet’s American Trilogy of Popular Music with Our Music, a new set of original works by Haynes and bandmates Hank Roberts, Jim Yanda and Drew Gress.
Two electric-oriented new projects usher in 2025: Transition pairs Haynes with guitarist Ben Monder on an extended exploration of the classic John Coltrane tune, and Return to Electric delves into the icons of jazz fusion with guitarist Steve Salerno and bassist Kermit Driscoll. That fall the project comes full circle with an audiophile remaster of The Passing, the 1991 debut of The Phil Haynes Continuum – Haynes’ first outing as a leader and the jazz debut of violinist Mark Feldman, alongside Gress and pianist David Kikoski.
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photo by René Pierre Allain