It isn’t easy to make a documentary about jazz these days, and that’s an understatement. BBC Four will very occasionally shoehorn some jazz into their output, usually a bought-in product from the States or something from the vaults, but the chances of getting the funding for a new documentary are slim or none. After ‘Whiplash’ and the new Miles film, there’s probably more chance of making a jazz feature than a documentary these days. So hats off to producers Mark Baxter and Sam Pattinson and director Lee Cogswell who have transformed a labour of love into a jazz doc which belongs in the genre’s top tier.
Whilst always aware of his importance (and infamy) in the Brit-jazz lexicon, I have to confess an ignorance of Tubby’s music until watching ‘A Man In A Hurry’. The film works perfectly as an introduction to his music and life; his ‘darker’ side is not glossed over or sentimentalised, merely seen in its proper context as a bi-product of a hard jazz life. The filmmakers have spared no expense in tracking down all the key TV and film footage, and we also regularly hear from Tubby himself via the numerous interviews he gave. Another big coup is the reassuringly-crisp narration of actor du jour Martin Freeman.
There are revelations dotted throughout, such as Tubby turning down a regular spot with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers but also appearing with Duke Ellington as a dep for Paul Gonsalves. There’s Tubby’s legendary performance playing the ‘Pink Panther Theme’ with Henry Mancini and also his weird appearance in the Hammer film ‘Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors’ alongside a manic Roy Castle. ‘A Man In A Hurry’ is also particularly good on ’50s and ’60s Soho, with Ronnie Scott a constant presence.
Whilst the doc lacks the big-name talking heads from across the pond that might have given it more bargaining power in the marketplace, it does very well anyway with musician and writer Simon Spillett guiding us through Tubby’s life, and there are also pithy contributions from well-informed, interesting fans such as Peter Blake, Robert Elms, Michael Horowitz, Patrick Forge and Eddie Piller. All in all, it’s an excellent jazz documentary and a fine tribute to a Brit jazz legend. As another – Joe Harriott – once said, ‘Parker? There’s them over here can play a few aces too.’
‘Tubby Hayes: A Man In A Hurry’ is out now.