© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“I was wondering if you'd like to use my sleeve notes for 'Tubby Hayes: The Complete Fontana Albums 1961-69'?”
The set is now out of print and it might be nice to share the notes to those who didn't buy the set.
Let me know what you think.” - Simon Spillett
So began the journey that brings these booklet notes to JazzProfiles.
And what splendid “notes” they are - all 57 pages of them in manuscript form!
Obviously the scope and length of these commentaries will require a multipart feature to present them in such a way so as not to overwhelm the reader.
But make no mistake, however the information is laid out, if you are looking for a definitive account of tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes’ marvellous work in the decade of the 1960s, you need look no farther than Simon’s splendid treatment on the subject.
What’s also on offer in Simon’s narrative is the broader background of Jazz in England in the 1960s as seen through a variety of prisms associated with Tubby including changes in personal, venues, recorded material, constantly evolving Jazz styles, coverage about Jazz in newspapers and magazines and a host of other developments and focal points.
More about Simon can be found via his website including contact information and of course you're always welcome to leave your thoughts in the “comments” field of this blog.
© -Simon Spillett, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.
THE COMPLETE FONTANA RECORDINGS 1961-1969
'They say you can’t sell British jazz in Britain - not the modern stuff. That’s not quite true. With someone like Tubby, who now has an international reputation, sales are healthy enough. He is, in fact, the modern star name among European jazzmen.'
Jack Baverstock, Crescendo, June 1963
A veritable fountain of musical riches
It's one of the most distinctive of all record label logos; direct but subtle; utterly memorable but wholly inimitable; a defining example of 1950s corporate branding at its best; the sort of creation all ad-designers dream of – a single name wrapped inside a few simple lines, each inextricable from the other; a word and shape which embeds itself firmly into the subconscious of those who buy the product it emblazons; a tag that stands out among the very many other labels that comprise the marketplace in which it operates.
In sum, the perfect label for a label.
When Dutch industry giant Philips Records launched a new subsidiary imprint in 1958, among the many concerns its business heads faced was one of marketing; how to create a brand icon to stand out among those of the other classic record companies of the period.
After all, this was the 1950s, a golden era for catchy label names and even catchier label designs, a time in which the established leaders in the field faced an onrush of competition from other newly-formed contenders, all eager to build on the popularity of the new vinyl medium. Titles and images jostled for primacy: RCA-Victor's homely Nipper; Columbia's 'walking eye'; Capitol's tribute to the domed magnificence of its namesake; Atlantic's swirling vortex.
But before even this quandary could be addressed, they had to think of a name, something at once impressive; something somehow suggestive of the fresh sounds that would shortly spring forth from the company's roster of artists.
Eventually they settled on Fontana, the Italian word for fountain, a choice implying a veritable cascade of music emanating from an unceasing source, a stream of product that might immediately quench the thirst of the curious listener and yet also be able to refresh them time and again, itself a pretty accurate summary of the virtues of the Long Playing format.
As any designer can tell you, a name can help immensely when generating ideas and concepts about a potential logo. The record business is no exception – just look at the Beatles' Apple label or Blue Note, both of which use imagery based-upon those very words. The key is, of course, is making the emblem as memorable as the music it endorses, and for the Dutch ad team the word Fontana was a godsend, helping them create a trademark that has, ever since it first appeared over sixty years ago, become as widely familiar to record collectors as any of those named above.
And, like all such designs, it's almost disarmingly simple; two conjoined characters (the f and the t of Fontana), five free-standing letters and one circle – at once both austere and sensual. It's also a remarkably evocative piece of art, the rising, arching interlinked f and t suggesting arcs of water from a fountain itself, but in actual fact referencing the logo of Fontana's parent company Philips, whose inverted U-shaped image of one of its classic Art-Deco radios of the 1930s was already a brand label familiar to millions. This new logo seemed almost to say, 'yes, it's Philips, the label you all recognise, but wait a minute; we've sort of turned things upside down here. You might be getting something more than you expected.'
Fontana's catalogue during its 1960s heyday certainly supports the notion, covering it all – rock, pop, folk, easy-listening, ethnic musics, you name it. However, for many UK record buyers during this time it meant jazz, the label a gateway to two of the then hottest properties within the music – Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck – both of whom were signed to the American industry leader Columbia Records, whose European license had been awarded to Philips, who in turn released their albums on Fontana. To this end, when many British fans first heard such classic records as Kind of Blue or Time Out it wasn't on their original label but as Fontana's, very often repackaged with sleeve notes by local writers or cover art created specifically for the UK and European market.
Some of these parochial issues have since become hugely collectable, as valuable for their time-locked sleeve texts as for the music they contain (try and hunt down the Fontana version of Kind of Blue, well worth a look for the high-blown commentary by Benny Green).
Fittingly, besides its UK-writers and artwork designers, Fontana's London-based arm also contracted its own local jazz legend – a musician who by the time he signed to the label in the early 1960s could lay an unqualified claim to being as authentic, adept and axiomatically accomplished a giant as many of the US jazz-gods with whom he shared catalogue-space; Edward Brian 'Tubby' Hayes.
Instrumental triple-threat (tenor saxophone, vibraphone, flute), composer, arranger, bandleader, perennial poll-winner, to many the brightest beacon within British jazz, and man who understood self-marketing perhaps better than any other British modern jazz figure of his era save Ronnie Scott, Hayes hadn't chosen to go with Fontana on face value alone. Yet, looking at the label's trademark sharp-lined logo, you could instantly sense these new partners shared a similar aesthetic - the stylised arch of the design suggesting the curlicues, interlocking architecture of the saxophonist's improvisations; the bold evenly spaced lettering redolent of his smack-on instrumental articulation; its typography as unambiguous and modernistic as Hayes' himself.
There was even something in the name itself – Fontana – its etymological basis a reminder that Hayes was himself a veritable fountain of musical riches, ready to spew forth at any given moment.
Its translation from a continental European language into another tongue was also appropriately in keeping with Hayes' ongoing quest, that of shedding the idea of local jazz dialects in favour of a kind of musical Esperanto – one that could open doors anywhere within the world. From the off, Hayes and Fontana seemed a well-suited match. And within a few years of the association beginning they'd become a conjoined entity, jazz writers and fans talking of 'Tubby's' Fontana's' in the same way they talked of 'Miles's Prestige's' or 'Dexter's Blue Notes'. What's more, these were albums that were changing the old idea that a British jazz LP was automatically something lesser – musically, sonically, artistically, commercially.
Listened to today, when we know the whole story of Hayes, his life and work – and now that we've heard all manner of live or privately-recorded performance tapes of him that have surfaced of late - it's all too easy to overlook the fact that it was with these, his Fontana albums that he truly carved his legend. Bootlegs and broadcasts can tell us much but they can't tell a story quite like a strong catalogue of well-produced, major label releases. Indeed, Hayes' Fontana's are the music he wanted us to hear; the recordings he thought had caught him at his best; his own, personally undersigned, musical biography.
Associating the name of a musician with a particular label isn't exclusive to jazz, of course. Think of Marvin Gaye and you'll doubtless think of Motown, for example; Frank Sinatra and Capitol; Bob Dylan and Columbia; Ray Charles and Atlantic; the list is endless.
In jazz, however, a music in which an artist's albums are treated less like isolated examples of their latest songs and more like one vast, interconnected narrative – a novel, say, compared with a collection of short stories – these match-ups will often create a legend of their own. Fans talk of John Coltrane's 'Impulse! years', for instance, not just as a series of album-length statements that just happen to have been made for a single label but as a genuine body of work, the very mention of which instantly brings to mind a certain sound, a certain approach and a recognisable look, as much tied to a time and place as a corporate identity.
There are dozens of other, similar, examples: Gerry Mulligan's Pacific Jazz recordings; the Atlantic albums by Ornette Coleman; Thelonious Monk's Riverside output; Sonny Rollins' Prestige discography; Art Pepper's Contemporary sets.
And, for those artists fortunate enough to find both a suitable label and the right producer, a single association with a record company might be so fruitful that it can cover virtually an entire careers-worth of recordings. Just look at Miles Davis' contract with Columbia, signed in 1955 and ended, finally, in the 1980s.
The 1960s was the peak time for these kinds of partnerships. Major labels still had producers assigned to specific artists, sympathetic to their respective visions, and were not yet victim to the culture of the corporate buy-out that would, after the mid-1970s, rob many imprints of their own distinct identity. Contracts would frequently be extended rather than dropped at the first available cut-off. Budgets would be upped rather than sliced in half.
Independent labels were enjoying their heyday too, before so many of them were swallowed up in distribution deals, very often still run by maverick individuals who recorded who they liked how they liked. Between them, these opposing ends of the spectrum created entire stories set out on record – the Miles Davis Quintet's 1965-68 sets; the Blue Note albums of Wayne Shorter; Albert Ayler's ESP discs, among them – series of albums that have helped define our ideas of what jazz meant in the 1960s.
This might have been the story in the USA but in the UK, where modern jazz had always had a shaky relationship with the record industry, it was another tale altogether.
Major labels had never really taken much of an interest in local jazzmen – save for the odd record here and there – the knock-on effect being that musicians who conceivably might have reached a wider audience through the medium of recorded sound were reduced to playing to those who could only ever hear them live. This vicious circle became even more deadly with the arrival of The Beatles and co. circa. 1963, after which virtually every record company in London was doing its damnedest to sign up bands they hoped might prove just as sales-friendly. Very quickly, this model came to dominate; pop band + open-minded producer = solid sales, an equation that left Britain's modern jazzmen firmly out in the cold.
Indeed, if asked to name one example of an alchemical union of performers, producer and label within the British record industry during the 1960s, most people still think of The Beatles, George Martin and Parlophone.
Those with their ears cocked towards jazz might nominate Tubby Hayes' output on Fontana.
And they'd be right to. It's all too often forgotten that at the very same time as Lennon, McCartney, Martin et al were concocting their pop confections at EMI's famed Abbey Road Studios, Hayes and his producers Jack Baverstock and Terry Brown were setting down (at Philips' studios in Stanhope Place, near London's Marble Arch, barely two miles from Abbey Road) a series of classic British jazz albums that, while nowhere near as well-known or decade-defining as those of the Fab Four, certainly qualify as among the greatest bodies of recorded work assembled in the UK during the 1960s.
In these days of boxed-set-centric retrospection, collating all of Hayes' output for Fontana seems both logical and inevitable. Long-touted as the UK's equivalent to figures such as John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins, both of whom have been afforded the big-box treatment many times over, the music he made for Fontana is a more than worthy contender; a series of albums that, over the span of just eight years, cover a range of approaches, ambitions and accomplishments that, now as then, instantly strike the listener as the real-deal. And, like Coltrane or Rollins', while Hayes's is the kind of legend that can stand tall on the strengths of a handful of individual records, it requires the bigger picture to truly appreciate its importance. As happens with Coltrane's Impulse! Records, hearing one of Hayes' Fontana's leads inevitably to the next; to questions of how he can top performances that already appear unbeatable, or what direction he might next choose, make listening to these records as addictive as any TV box-set binge.
Musically, their contents are an ear-grabbing collage of instrumental and compositional colours, in many instances not dated whatsoever by the passage of over nearly six decades; the human story they tell is equally gripping – that of a man fighting the limitations of his environment and winning time and again, reaching the peak of his powers in epic style before a cruel combination of insidious fashion and human frailty wear him thin. It's as much of a drama as the lives of Coltrane or Miles Davis; his albums are as much a testimony to what it was to be a tenor saxophone-playing jazz improviser in the 1960s as any by Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz or Joe Henderson.
And, heard in total, they also help to counter the still all-too-often pedalled fallacy that Hayes had died without truly realising a coherent musical vision, his legendary talent, as one writer once put it, 'beyond what the reality could justify.'
Even a few years ago, well into the era when Hayes was becoming popular again, another critic wrote that 'his Fontana albums...suggest how important a figure he could have been.' Could? This seems a remarkably ungenerous assessment to give a collection of music so varied, clearly thought out and goal-oriented. In fact, taken together Hayes' Fontana's actually argue the opposite; that there was no 'could', 'would' or 'might' about his recorded output during these years, and that rather than show anything incomplete, unrealised or unformed, these are albums which collectively combine into a remarkably coherent picture of who Tubby Hayes was and, more importantly, why he still matters.
No need to bow down
So why has it taken so long to hear this tale told in full? To purloin a phrase, it's complicated. Indeed, the reasons for it taking until some forty-five years after his untimely death, aged just 38, in 1973 to assemble what amounts the definitive collection of his definitive work are almost as complex and convoluted as the course of the saxophonist's own life. In fact, it's a story as much about the odd vacuum Hayes left upon dying as it is about record company strategy or critical neglect, as we shall see.
A figure who, at times, has seemed almost irretrievably locked into national nostalgia – as '1960's' as The Avengers, Green Shield Stamps and the mini-skirt – Hayes was, for many years, a player people talked about but nobody heard. He was long-gone, his music more myth than material, his old records passed around among those in the know almost as if he were some sort of fallen martyr, worshipped by an underground of believers who thought it futile to wish for anything more. No record label had cared much about him when he was alive, the party-faithful would maintain, choosing to ignore the truth, so why would they care about him now he was gone? After all, this was British jazz, a music renown for its mustn't grumble, 'ah, never mind', attitude.
Ironically, this was precisely the obstacle that Hayes had fought so hard to take down during his time with Fontana. 'We need to stick out for our rights a bit more,' he said in an interview in 1961, the year of his first album for the label. 'A lot of us are inclined to give way to all sorts of pressures when there is no need to bow down.'
'It's no good waiting for somebody to put something in your lap,' he told another journalist in the early 1960s. 'You've got to go out and do it yourself.'
This was a philosophy he applied to every area of his professional life, recording included. Frequently, it brought rich dividends and made him a man whose latest career moves were always ones to watch.
Two years after he'd been signed to Fontana, he mused on this sense of enterprise. 'I think if I'd just sat back and let it ride I probably wouldn't be recording for anybody.'
It wasn't a lack of acknowledgement of his many talents – quite the opposite – that had prevented him making the kinds of records he wanted; it was partly that the post-war UK record industry, genuflecting to pro-US tastes and near-obsequious in its ratio of American to British album releases, hadn't factored for the arrival of a world-class jazzman on its doorstep. Hayes's was a big talent. It followed that it required a big label to promote it, and that - in British jazz circles in the early 1960s – that was like asking for the moon.
He got what he wanted though, largely through an almost pathological inability to perceive any barrier - musical or otherwise - as insurmountable. Recording no fewer than eleven albums for Fontana between spring 1961 and the summer of 1969, including the three LP's that are often considered his defining signpost works – Tubbs' in N.Y., 100% Proof and Mexican Green – Hayes' was already a jazz star when he signed on the dotted line, aged just twenty-six.
By the time his contract expired (and there is no more apposite choice of word) less than a decade later, the peak of the stardom had been reached and passed, his towering achievements – including his Fontana albums – having elevated British jazz to a level that had appeared beyond reach barely a few years before.
Indeed, it was within the period bracketed by his Fontana contract that Hayes had been called to guest with the Duke Ellington orchestra – the jazz world's equivalent of getting a knighthood – and Dizzy Gillespie hailed him 'the greatest tenor sax player performing anywhere.'
In many ways, these two signal successes – breaking down the prejudices of both American and English listeners as to the quality of UK jazzmen, and proving that talent and idiom need not be entirely shaped by circumstance and nationality – are inextricably bound up with his Fontana discography, a body of work comprising a series of album projects (and they are exactly that) that besides mapping out his own course during the 1960s simultaneously recount a wider tale, as much cultural as artistic.
If jazz albums can be said to be able to conjure a time and a place, then Hayes' Fontana's somehow capture London (if not the UK) at some unspecified juncture between the Profumo scandal and England's World Cup win of 1966, the capital that was, largely due to young men of vision like Hayes himself, fast becoming the hub of what we now like to consider the 'swinging' Sixties.
Of late, on the back of the recent documentary film on Hayes ('A Man In A Hurry', Mono Media Films, 2015) it's become almost fashionable to include his name in among those individuals, groups – both socially and musically –, beliefs and places we now think of as allegorical to Britain in the 1960s: The Beatles, the Mod movement, Carnaby Street, new-wave cinema, the whole notion of drug-fuelled counter-culture. One observer has even dubbed Hayes 'the Michael Caine of jazz', a nice sound-bite that, while it might have a handy catch-all quality to it (Sixties icons both, Hayes and Caine did indeed work together; the saxophonist appearing on the soundtrack to the actors three era-defining films, The Ipcress File, Alfie and The Italian Job), actually rather does Hayes a disservice, reducing him to an almost laddish figure whose success seemed to happen overnight, almost by accident.
If Caine and Hayes shared anything, it was an ability to both work and party hard simultaneously. And, if there's any real comparison to made in their careers (not that such is really possible, Caine surviving on into his eighties and Hayes dead before he'd hit forty) it's that having finally broken America neither man initially knew how to handle the rewards; Hayes never really able to capitalise on his ground-breaking visits through a series of personal misfortunes, Caine's career almost derailed by a series of ill-advised films made following his move to the US in the 1970s.
Maybe there is a lesson here? That world-class giants are far happier and more successful on home turf.
If it's at all possible to align Tubby Hayes with any one up and coming star of the British cinema in the 1960s, it's probably better to plump for Terence Stamp, Caine's one-time flat mate, and a figure who, the very month Hayes released his first Fontana LP, was being unashamedly courted by the mainstream press in advance of his role in the film Billy Budd.
1961 was a breakthrough year for both saxophonist and actor and great things were expected of them on the international stage.
Physically poles apart – one limber and Greek god-like the other short and corpulent - Stamp and Hayes actually had a lot in common; both were doted on by an adoring mother; both had complex relationships with their fathers; both had been groomed to think of themselves as something special (and had, at times, an ego to match); both had quickly seen that their environment was an inhibitor to future success ('stops them trying to do anything,” Stamp once said of the attitude of those he'd grown up with); and both had something of a whiff of the put-on to their public persona's – Stamp's cut-glass English at odds with his Plaistow roots; Hayes' mock-Cockney brogue an unlikely affectation from one privately educated, itself a privilege extremely rare in British modern jazz circles.
And perhaps there was another comparison to be made – that of high hopes that maybe weren't – or perhaps even couldn't be – truly fulfilled, of an international promise that ultimately wasn't realised. Time and again throughout the early to mid-1960s Hayes was rumoured to be imminently emigrating to the USA, the ultimate goal of many of his jazz generation, but he often complained about the relative fiscal downturn he'd experience if he'd done so. He was a big star here, but over there? What might happen if he finally took the plunge? It never happened, of course, reminding us a bit of those stories of Stamp sitting around rejecting Hollywood scripts willy-nilly, despite being offered upwards of £30,000 a film.
If anything, by the middle 1960s, Tubby Hayes' life and career were more like a cross between a Carry-On production and a Hammer movie, his artistic vision now buffered by a personal life for which the word hedonistic seems too polite.
But back in the early 1960s, when he first signed his initial two-year contract with Fontana, all this lay in the future and his ambitions, foresight and craft were all still intact.
To be continued in Part 2.