This is a #HJFilmFest related post. The new Herts Jazz FILM Festival takes place at Welwyn Garden City Cinema on 16-18 September 2016 with a special gala evening on 2 October. It will showcase compelling films that all have a distinctly jazz flavour. Timed to complement the Herts Jazz Club’s well-established and prestigious annual Herts Jazz Festival, the #HJFilmFest will bring you classic Hollywood film noir, silent film with live jazz accompaniment, rarely-seen documentaries, and a performance by a superstar jazz quartet celebrating one of the UK’s greatest jazz pianists, Stan Tracey.
A MAN IN A HURRY is the excellent new documentary about the prodigiously talented British saxophonist Tubby Hayes. During his all too brief life, Hayes created an astonishing body of work that still inspires musicians today. This film not only deals with the many achievements of this legendary player but brings to life the rich culture of 1950s, 60s, and 70s London. It is narrated by actor and Hayes fan Martin Freeman.
The film’s producer and fellow Londoner, Mark Baxter, is also a well respected author. He kindly agreed to answer my questions about the film.
Mike O’Brien: Mark, why Tubby Hayes and why now?
Mark Baxter: I fell under the spell of Tubby in the early 80s when investigating the world of jazz. I would have been 22/23. I joined Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club as a member and saw plenty of great acts there over the years. I then spent hours and much money in Ray’s Jazz Shop on Shaftesbury Avenue and first checked out the usual suspects, Miles, Coltrane, and Chet Baker and then got tipped off on to British players , Tubby among them. I just fell under the spell of him , Phil Seamen, Ronnie Ross, Stan Tracey etc…
I kept saying that one day I’d write a book on Tubbs (I have had 9 books published so far, so have a career in that world too) but then found out Simon Spillett was well into writing his book, ‘The Long Shadow of the Little Giant‘ so I decided to make a documentary instead, despite having no idea how to. This was in late 2012. I decided we’d aim for what would have been Tubby’s 80th year in 2015. Thankfully I found our director Lee Cogswell when we worked on a separate job together.
MO’B: Was Simon Spillett – a fantastic sax player himself and quite a favourite of the Herts Jazz Club – involved from the start?
MB: I knew Simon’s name well from the internet searches I had done on Mr Hayes, so knew he would be the font of all knowledge on the subject. So I’m emailed him and then we went to interview him at home. We all got on well, so he kindly gave us a lot of his research notes to help with the project. His help was invaluable.
M’O’B: How did you manage to cover so much in only 55 mins! How did you approach editing your material, and was anything left out that you wish could have been included?
MB: Haha. Well, from very early on whilst doing the research and writing the script, I just knew Tubby was living at a break neck speed and that gave me the title – A Man in a Hurry – which then sort of set the tempo of the film. In all honesty, we had a very limited budget, so had little choice as to the length of the film, we just couldn’t afford to use any more footage, though we had plenty of other unseen , or rarely seen, concert film that we had to leave out as we ran out of many. Lee did a great job on the editing and spent many hours refining that and that shows in the finished product.
MO’B: I like the way you contextualise the jazz world within the wider culture, particularly London culture. Was this always an important element?
MB: I found Tubby first of all when I was deep into the world of Mod. I lived that life for a few years, the clothes, the scooters and the clubs, so was well versed in the world of Modernist and always felt Tubby was at the forefront of that in the late 50s and that was something I wanted to explore in the film. A lot of the people who are in the film and who are around my age (53) have a similar view on Tubby’s part of that particular story.
MO’B: One of the things which I learnt from the film was the extent to which Tubby was a household name. What did you learn from making this film?
MB: At the start I only really knew his music, so nearly all of his personal life was new to me and it was fascinating to explore that and find out more. That is the thing most people say to me after seeing the film, that they simply didn’t know what a big star he was. They are amazed to be honest. It just shows that some people can slip though the cracks
MO’B: How long do it take to make the film and what difficulties did you have to overcome?
MB: In total it took about three years, with the research and writing up a working script. The major obstacle was finding the money to make the film as we couldn’t get any help from TV land or any funding from elsewhere to be honest. Myself and Lee worked for free on the job and it became a total passion project, we just HAD to finish. Some really good mates and my old mum, gave us the money to make it and it’s therefore quite emotional for me, every time I watch it.
MO’B: I see that Paul Weller and Martin Freeman are both executive producers of the film (and Martin also narrates): how did they come to be involved?
MB: I know both of them personally and of course we have a shared love of the ‘Mod’ world, so spend far too many hours discussing shoes, but they are always looking forward and looking for the next project, so they are always asking what I’m up to. A few years back, I mentioned Tubby and they checked his music out, so knew I was in the process of making something on him. I asked Martin to be interviewed for the film, but he said no, because he felt he didn’t know the subject well enough, but said if you get it made, I’ll narrate it.
This was said well before The Hobbit and Sherlock took off, so it then became a mission to get a few hours in his diary a few years later, to get his vocals sorted and onto the film. It was great to have him aboard. As for Paul Weller, he was so supportive from the kick off, and made a few phone calls for us to get us into locations and line up some interviewees. A pair of the finest gents I’m privileged to know.
MO’B: How has the film been received?
MB: Beyond our wildest dreams to be honest. I won’t lie, it was very stressful in getting it made in time and then released, so in the end we were just glad to get out there. The good people at Proper Jazz picked up the distributing of the DVD and they have done a great job. When the feedback and reviews started to come our way, well, we were delighted. We have also teamed up with Simon Spillett to do a ‘Tubby double act’ so to speak, where the film is shown at a venue/club or cinema and then Simon plays a Tubby set with his quartet. We have had some great nights with it. We have also introduced people to the music of Tubby which has been a nice bonus to it all.
MO’B: The Herts Jazz FILM Festival is all about bringing music and film together, including live accompanied silent film. What films with a jazz connection have inspired you?
MB: Good question. ‘Jazz On A Summers Day’ by Bert Stern was a massive influence on me early on and I love that film to this day. I also watch ‘Round Midnight’ by Bernard Tavernier as often as I can and I’ve always got time for ‘Let’s Get Lost’ by Bruce Weber. Such a life lived by the Baker.
MO’B: Is there a question which you’ve been surprised was never asked in interviews about the film?
MB: Ha! ‘Would you do it all again’ would be a good one. I should say no really, but I think I probably would…
TUBBY HAYES: A MAN IN A HURRY will be shown in the Herts Jazz FILM Festival on Sunday 18th September 2016.